Tag Archives: Photo Essay

Flooded, Uprooted, Burned: The Tracks of Sandy on the Shore

After TIME commissioned me, along with four other photographers, to capture Hurricane Sandy using Instagram, I and many of my colleagues felt a deep personal need to go back and document the aftermath. I’ve covered disasters in other parts of our country, but this is my hometown, and Sandy was a storm of historical significance. I’ve often found that there is great power in telling difficult stories in a beautiful way. Interest in any given story wanes so quickly, yet it’s only through taking the time to go deeper that we get to a place of real understanding. I had to return to this story, and I wanted try to comprehend the scale of this storm. The only way for me to capture Sandy’s destructive fury was from above.

Stephen Wilkes for TIME

Storm surges over power the coastal areas and flood the streets during low tide in Milford, CT.

On the Sunday after Sandy made landfall, I decided to rent a helicopter and fly over some of the most devastated areas, including the New Jersey shore, Breezy Point and Far Rockaway. It was a beautiful day to fly, but unfortunately that beauty quickly eroded into shock as we began to get close to the coasts. It was everything I’d heard about, but it was difficult to believe what I was actually seeing. Once we got above the shoreline, I really started to understand the scale of the destruction. The expanse of land it ruined, the totality of the devastation — it was like a giant mallet had swung in circles around the area. It was mind numbing.

When I got home that night, the images still in my mind made it impossible to sleep. Through various points of this storm, it felt like we were all living through a science fiction movie. Seeing these devastated towns from above showed the cold reality of this storm’s severity.

From above, I realized how close particular neighborhoods were to bays or oceans. Sometimes, it was a matter of two blocks, and it’s a proximity not immediately apparent when you’re on the ground. In Breezy Point, for example, I knew that more than 80 homes had burned down in a fire, but nothing could have prepared me for what I actually saw. The blackened and charred blocks of homes viewed as a giant physical scar across the landscape. Seeing how much land was affected and yet how many homes were saved, made me think of the firefighters and how hard they must have worked just to contain this fire.

In flying over Staten Island, I was really struck by the marina, and how the boats were physically lifted from the pier and tossed together. It looked like a child’s game—huge, 40-ft. boats being thrown around like toys. We then flew over Oakwood, where I saw a house that had been lifted and dragged through a field of cattails; its path clearly visible days later, having left a trail of destruction through the cattails.

Sandy was a warning shot. I’ve had a unique view of what’s happened on a physical level. But the emotional toll has yet to be measured. It’s my hope that these images serve as a wakeup call — whether that call is about global warming, infrastructure, or just the recognition that the world is changing, it’s a reminder that we need to take special care of our fragile world.


Stephen Wilkes is a fine-art and commercial photographer based in New York. Wilkes was awarded the Photo District News Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012.

Wilkes’ work will be part of Art for Sandy, a fundraising initiative to support Sandy relief that’s being hosted by 20×200 and TIME.



In Sandy’s Shadow: How the Redfern Houses’ True Ordeal Began After the Storm

For Angela Williams, the routine was the same each day. She would leave her apartment, shuffle through a dark hallway and down a concrete stairwell, and stand in line for freeze-dried military rations handed out by Red Cross workers. The wait could last an hour. Williams, 45, would drop food off at her mother’s place a few buildings over, then push through her rheumatoid arthritis to hike the six flights back up to her apartment. There she would sit in darkness, trying not to go insane.

Its like were living in an abandoned building,” says Williams. “No hot water, no heat, no nothing.

Even in ordinary times, life in the Redfern Houses wasnt easy. The complex stands in the northeastern section of Far Rockaway, Queens, not far from the runways of JFK Airport. Inside nine faded-brick towers are 1,780 people in 604 apartments. Residents pay an average rent of $472 a month to the New York City Housing Authority. The architecture screams projects; so do the rusted trim and scuffed linoleum lobby floors. A security system includes 141 high-tech cameras designed to be triggered by the sound of gunshots, installed by the city after a three-day wave of shootings in 2008 left two people dead and five injured. And yet, many residents have made Redfern their home, working hard to keep their apartments immaculate inside regardless of the projects dingy exterior.

Then came Sandy. A little after dusk on Oct. 29, the storm piled water from Motts Basin over Beach Channel Drive and submerged the low-slung wrought iron fence surrounding the towers. Around 8 p.m., the lights went off. Elevators throughout the six and seven-story buildings were halted; heat went out, and appliances shut down. You looked out the window and it was so dark, you didnt know it was water until you seen it moving, says David Stephens, who lives on the fourth floor. As quickly as it came, the water receded, leaving the wet grounds covered in darkness.

For many in Sandys path, the storm itself was terrifying. On Staten Island, houses collapsed, crushing people underneath; in Breezy Point, families fled blocks of homes in flames. But in Redfern, the real struggle began the next day, when it became clear that power wouldnt return for weeks. seo marketing . For people who felt forgotten to begin with, warehoused in a housing project at the farthest corner of the city, it became easy to think that they are last in line for repairs.Engineers from the Army and Air Force have been pumping sand and saltwater out of the buildings’ basements, only to come back the next morning to waterlogged utility rooms they must pump out again.

The lack of power forced Sheree Pinders four children to sleep huddled in the living room under piles of blankets because the two bedrooms were so cold they could see their breath freeze. Rebecca Glynn, a hospital secretary, returned to work, but every night a bus ferried her home to the blackout zone, which she describes as a daily trip back into hell.

Still, most in Redfern count their blessings; the buildings suffered no structural damage. Late Sunday night, 14 days after the storm, electrical companies had finally hooked up every building to a generator, which means lights in the hallways, but still no heat in peoples apartments. You have your moments. Maybe three days ago I came out of the building and just started crying, Williams says. I never disrespected the homeless, but I look at them in a totally different light. Were in the same predicament.


Finlay MacKay is a regularcontributorto TIME.

Root of the Nation: Zhang Kechun Photographs China’s Yellow River

As a boy, he read about the mythic river. As a man, he went to find its source. Chengdu-based photographer Zhang Kechun has spent much of the last two years on the banks the Yellow River, the waterway considered both the cradle of Chinese civilization and, when it breaks its banks, its curse. “I wanted to photograph the river respectfully,” said Zhang. “It represents the root of the nation.”

Zhang’s project has the feel of a pilgrimage. He travels on a fold-up bicycle, following the river’s silted water from the coastal flats of Shandong, west, to the mountains of Qinghai. He journeys for a month at a time, lugging a large format Linhof camera, a tripod and just enough film. Sometimes, he says, he went a week without taking a picture. “I wanted to take my time,” he said,  ”to slow down and experience every second of the moment.”

His patient labor paid off. The work is intimate and expansive, capturing quiet moments under vast, gray skies. People swim. Buildings rise. Life plays out against a dateless haze. “I choose cloudy, gloomy days to photograph and I overexpose my photos,” Zhang explained. This, he said, “adds a soft and gentle touch,” giving each frame an otherworldly feel. This ethereal stillness quiets the quotidian realities of the river: movement, pollution, noise.

Zhang says he did not set out to document environmental destruction — others have done that. But China’s headlong rush to develop has scarred the country’s land, air and water, and the mighty Yellow River is no exception. ”I started off wanting to photograph my ideal of the river, but I kept running into pollution,” he said. “I realized that I couldn’t run away from it, and that I didn’t need to run away from it.”

Though the lunar tones and low horizons feel foreboding, Zhang insists the project carries a message of hope. There is a reason all the people in his pictures look tiny: ”The power of humans is nothing compared to the power of nature, even when we try to change it.” Century upon century, the river runs.


Zhang Kechun is a Chengdu-based photographer with the MoST agency. 

Emily Rauhala is an Associate Editor at TIMEAdditional reporting and translation from Regina Wang.

Matilde Gattoni: The Swallows of Syria

Editor’s note: The people in the story have been photographed with their faces covered and their names have been changed for security concerns. For the same reason, the exact locations in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon where the interviews took place have been kept hidden.

They were five, their faces covered with masks. They broke into the house and went upstairs. Few minutes later, they came down with my son Ali, handcuffed. linkwheel . They brought him away with no explanation. ‘Keep your mouth shut, or we will kill you’ was the only thing they told me.

Sitting on the porch of her new house in the Bekaa Valley, the Eastern Lebanese region bordering with Syria, Somaya struggles to hold back tears while recounting the last time she saw her son alive. Three days after his arrest, Ali’s corpse was found in a ditch near Talbiseh, a small village close to the Syrian city of Homs. He had eleven gunshot wounds in the stomach, the left arm was broken and both kneecaps had been removed, she says. Following her son’s death eight months ago, Somaya moved to Lebanon, where she is trying to cope with the nostalgia of her beloved country and the desperation of a mother that cannot get peace. Ali was a simple taxi driverhe didn’t like politics,” she says. “During the protests against the regime he used to stay at home because he didn’t want to run into troubles. Since his death, I pray to God every day to rid us of Assad.

Somaya’s story is not unique. Since the start of the revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, more than one hundred thousand civilians (at least 114, 955 according to UN agencies) have taken shelter in Lebanon. According to the UNHCR, the majority are children and women. Most of them are housewives, but there are also students, teachers, retirees and widows. In order to flee from a revolution that has slowly escalated in a full-scale civil war, many have crossed the border illegally, defying the bullets of the security forces to save the lives of their children. Today, they live scattered between the Northern city of Tripoli and the myriad of small villages along the Syrian border. This war is a heavy burden on our shoulders. Many of us have lost husbands and sons, and now have to take care of their families on our own, explains 27-year-old Rasha, who fled the village of Soran on March 1 and is now hosted with her family in a stark two-room flat in the Bekaa.

Like her, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees (more than 31,095 according to the UNHCR) are still unregistered and live in desperate situations. Hosted in basements, farm sheds or tents, they survive thanks to the rare food rations delivered by local NGOs. The Lebanese government, which never signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and does not have a specific legislation to deal with them, has so far refused to set up proper refugee camps for Syrians, out of fear that they might be infiltrated by armed groups and rebels, as was the case with the Palestinian ones in Lebanon during the 70s.

Many of the women refugees in Lebanon live halfway between prisoner and ghost, trying to avoid contacts with the local population for fear of being caught by the agents of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia and political party allied with Assad that constantly scours the country for dissidents. Every time my husband is late at night, I become hysterical, says Samira, 28, her dark, expressive eyes gleaming on her olive skin. Until six months ago she used to live in Hama with her four kids, the eldest of whom is only 11. Her husband, an opposition supporter, had already fled to Lebanon months ahead. During her lonely nights when Hama was bombed by the regime forces, Samira’s only dream was to rejoin him on the other side of the border. One night, the long-awaited phone call finally reached her. The following morning, she made an 80-kilometer trip that lasted for 13, interminable hours, during which Samira had to change four cars and pay $400 to bribe the Syrian soldiers manning the checkpoints all the way to the border. Today, Samira and her family live in the outskirts of Tripoli, but their problems are far from over. The stairs of the dilapidated building they live in are filled with pools of water and piles of garbage, while their balcony overlooks a rubbish dump. The monthly rent of $100 is a prohibitive price for her husband, who is struggling to find a job in Lebanon and is quickly running out of money. We don’t know how to pay the next rent, she says, before busting into a flood of tears.

The families who managed to reach Tripoli are the luckiest ones. Predominantly inhabited by Sunnis, the city has become the main stronghold of the Syrian opposition in Lebanon. There, refugees can enjoy proper health services and a relative security, but in the Bekaa valley, the situation is totally different. Divided among Shia, Sunnis and Christians, the region has been the theater of several raids carried out by the Syrian Army, as well as arrests and kidnappings of Syrian political activists and opponents of the regime. Hezbollah controls much of the region, and gives a hard time to refugees and the people who are helping them.

Though grateful for their safety, refugees still yearn to return to their own lives and homes. Mona, a 28-year-old refugee who escaped from al-Qusayr together with her husband and two young sons, now stays in the house of a host family all day long watching television with the kids. But the Arabic teacher has not lost the hope of going back to Syria to start teaching again. Too much blood has been spilled for freedom, she says. If the revolution succeeds, I hope the next generations will not spoil its fruits. This is the message I would like to send to my pupils.

Mona is not the only one missing school: 16-year-old Zaynab comes from the neighborhood of Al-Khaldeeye, one of the opposition strongholds in Homs. Until last January, she was the best in her class. But Zaynab’s dream of becoming a doctor was abruptly put to an end when she was forced to quit school after some soldiers kidnapped, raped and killed three of her schoolmates. Zaynab now lives in Tripoli with her father, brother and a mentally-challenged sister she has to look after. When she receives food from charity organizations, she has to sell part of it to buy her medicines. Despite the hard times she is going through, her faith in the future is still intact. I was expecting the revolution to be brief and successful,” she says. But I am still hopeful. Assad will fall soon, and we will be able to go back to Syria victorious.

Her optimism is not shared by other refugees, who are feeling the burden of the never ending clashes, deaths and deprivations. I don’t know how this war will endwe cannot even understand who is fighting whom anymore, complains Badia, a 51-year-old woman who came to Lebanon to cure her daughter who suffered brain damages during a raid of the security forces in their house in Bab Drieb, Homs. If this is the revolution, if it means that I am not able to go out of my house to buy a piece of breadthen I don’t want it. Or, as Rasha, the young Syrian girl from Soran, puts it: It doesn’t matter who wins this warSyria women don’t have rights from the day they are born. As a Syrian woman, I don’t know what freedom means.


Matilde Gattoni is a photographer based in Dubai and Lebanon. Her work often focuses on issues related to water around the world.

Matteo Fagotto is a 33-year-old freelance Italian journalist based in Dubai. He focuses on African and Middle Eastern issues through reportage and feature stories.


Under Mugabe: Robin Hammond Records the Suffering of Zimbabwe

In December 2011 Robin Hammond, then a neighbor of mine in Cape Town, arrived in Zimbabwe for what he’d planned as his longest trip yet to a country, and a story, he knew well – several months documenting that country’s decline. There are worse places in Africa and there are plenty of uplifting stories to be had in Zimbabwe. But in the context of the stunning progress Zimbabwe achieved in its first decade of independence, its collapse over the next two is nonetheless remarkable – and the main reason Robin has covered the country so extensively since 2007. “There are very few countries that have fallen as far as fast as Zimbabwe,” says Robin. “These are educated people with high expectations who are now living in really extreme poverty.”

For months, living on a grant from the Carmignac Foundation, Robin worked his way across the country, getting to know Zimbabweans, living with them, sharing their lives. He discovered a hidden urban poverty that most journalists, myself included, have missed. “Robert Mugabe’s only been screwing it up for 20 years, so there are still some half-decent roads and buildings,” says Robin. “But you get into some of these places and they’re vertical city slums: no power, no water, no jobs. And the atmosphere. I’ve been to Congo and Somalia and all those kinds of places but I don’t think I’ve seen people as scared as the people in Zimbabwe.”

As Robin discovered, there was good reason to fear. In March, as he photographed a farm in the east of the country that had been seized by the regime, he was arrested and held overnight. A few weeks later in mid-April, he was arrested a second time as he tried to take pictures of Zimbabwean refugees crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa. In 2007 I did five days in a Zimbabwean prison in the same part of the country. Robin was held for four weeks. Most of his time was spent in a five-meter-by-10-meter cell with 37 other inmates. The prisoners had a concrete floor to sleep on, blankets infested with lice as their only covering, one toilet between 250 and, for food, slop infested with weevils. Many of his fellow prisoners had been inside for years. Eventually, Robin was deported. “They did a pretty good job of making me feel afraid,” he says.

After arriving in London, then relocating to Paris, Robin began assembling his work. What emerges in these stunning, fearful pictures, now being published in a book and shown at an exhibition which opens this week at Chapelle de l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, is an arrestingly original portrait of a country whose nightmare is far from over. Robin’s pictures lay bare in unprecedented fashion the depth of Zimbabwe’s destruction and how, for millions, there is no recovery, nor even much hope of one.

Yet, with a fresh election expected next year, hope persists. Robin says Zimbabwe has taught him a cruel lesson about that: how hope might keep you going, but how it can also be dangerous. Robin learned that for himself in prison. “When you’re told you’re going to be let out that day, then you have to go back to your cell, that can be really depressing,” he says. “You have to set your mind to the idea that you could be there for months.” For Zimbabweans, hope has proved even more perilous, says Robin. A curiosity of Mugabe’s 32-year rule has been how, even as he plundered his country, ruined it, and killed and beat his challengers, he has never extinguished his people’s belief in change. The Zimbabwean President holds elections, shares power with the opposition and negotiates a theoretical transition with Zimbabwe’s neighbors. None of these initiatives have come to anything. But to those who ponder Mugabe’s survival – about why Zimbabweans haven’t staged a second revolution – Mugabe’s repression provides one answer and his careful nurturing of hope the other. Even now, says Robin, “Zimbabweans are eternally optimistic. They always think the next election will be the one to change their lives.” It is a testament to Robin’s art and courage that the way those expectations have been so mercilessly – and so deeply and comprehensively – disappointed has rarely been better captured.


Alex Perry is TIME’s Africa bureau chief.

Robin Hammond is a photojournalist based in South Africa.

National Geographic Magazine will be publishing a story next year that will feature the work from this project. The series will also be on display from Nov. 9 through Dec. 9 at Chapelle de l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris, with an opening reception on Nov. 8.



A History of the Campaign in 100 Objects

From Herman Cains cowboy hattoStephen Colberts super-PAC fun pack to binders, Big Bird and bayonets, objects became the visual sound bites of the 2012 election. Perhaps because there was a dearth of ideas, politics watchers and Internet mememakers seemed to focus more on things than in any previous campaign. So we thought it only appropriate to create our version of the BBCBritish Museum series A History of the World in 100 Objects to tell the story of the election. The pages that follow show the real thing: actual pieces of history, often given to us by the candidates themselves. Rick Perry lent us his Stars-and-Stripes cowboy boots, Jon Huntsman his beat-up briefcase, Rick Santorum his dog-eared pocket Constitution. SEO Experts search engine marketing . Michele Bachmann sent the suit she wore on the day she won the Iowa straw poll. Saturday Night Live lent us the dentures Jason Sudeikis wears to flash Joe Bidens smile. dog clothes . The president of an Ohio charity sent us a soup pot that Paul Ryan cleanedor recleanedduring an impromptu drop-by. Congressman Darrell Issa lent us the gavel he used during the congressional hearing about security in Libya. And the Republican National Committee let us photograph the empty chair that famously shared the stage with Clint Eastwood.

Richard Stengel is the managing editor of TIME.

TIME’s Class of 2016: The Political Leaders to Watch

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fought for the presidency this fall, TIME contract photographer Marco Grob was crisscrossing the country to meet the men and women who may be doing the same four years from now.

From September to October, Grob, a Swiss photographer based in New York, traveled to 10 states and Washington, D.C., to shoot the 13 political leaders who comprise TIME’s Class of 2016 (Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo were photographed earlier this year). “This series was very exciting because the fact that one of these politicians could be the next president was always on my mind,” says Grob, who took a variety of different kinds of shots and snapped extra rolls of photos to memorialize the moment.

Some of the subjects in Grob’s essay are American political royalty. Among the luminaries on TIME’s list are a First Lady (and now Secretary of State), a First Brother, six current and former governors and the current vice-president. Others, like San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are rising stars – members of the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S., men marked for higher office within their parties.

In the space of a single 48-hour stretch, the whirlwind assignment whisked Grob from Palo Alto, Calif., to Columbus, Ohio, to Baton Rouge. None of the subjects hinted at their political aspirations, and Grob preferred not to ask. “I don’t talk to them about their plans. I actually think it’s better if they don’t think I know much about their political careers,” he says. “They feel they can open up more.”

Breaking through that veneer of formality was one of the tasks confronting Grob, whose portfolio of portraits for TIME includes comedians and actors, world leaders and Ground Zero first responders. Politicians are trained are trained to stay on script. Grob’s challenge was to get them to veer from it. “Politicians, of all my subjects, are the most self-aware. They’re careful not to lose any voters, so they don’t get into anything controversial,” he says. His trick? “I always let them smile for a couple frames, but then I aim to make a more thoughtful portrait,” he says. “When you smile, you cover up your true face—that’s just what humans do.”

Alex Altman is a Washington correspondent for TIME. Follow him on Twitter @aaltman82.

Marco Grob is a contract photographer for TIME. View more of his work for TIME here or on his website.

Last Days on the Road with Obama by Brooks Kraft

After months of nearly non-stop campaigning, President Obama and his team have spent the last two weeks crisscrossing the country to make their final appeals to voters. Veteran political photographer Brooks Kraft has been there to document the campaign’s final days.

This was the eighth presidential campaign that Kraft has photographed, and his sixth for TIME. Over the years, he has honed his approach to shooting some of the most photographed men and women in the United States. seo marketing . Kraft rarely takes his pictures from the press platforms, preferring to move around, searching out unique angles and small details.

“I attempt to work around all the messaging and clutter surrounding the candidate, to take photographs that reflect the character of the campaign,” he told TIME.

These photographs, many shot in so-called ‘battleground’ states, capture the energy and exhaustion of a campaign winding down.Kraft captures both the quiet detailsfrom Secret Service agents on a distant roof to a close-up of a pink breast cancer awareness bracelet on the President’s wrist and the dramatic moments ecstatic crowds pressing toward the stage and the President silhouetted against spotlights as he speaks.

Shooting politics for so many years has allowed Kraft to make iconic pictures that transcend the obvious. “Shooting campaigns requires patience and persistence,” he said. “It can take many days of long travel to find images that can last beyond the daily news cycle.”

Brooks Kraft is a Washington D.C.-based photographer.