Category Archives: Philippines

2014: A Year in Pictures

Starting with a string of violence and protests in Cambodia, 2014 saw me cover topics ranging from the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda) in the Philippines, to drug addiction in Nepal, to the environmental future of Cambodia’s Lake Tonle Sap.

The following images offer a visual timeline of my year, and looking back on it, it was a busy year indeed.

Happy holidays.

Luc

January 3, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Military police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors. After months of widespread public anti-government protesting, a violent crackdown saw at least four people killed and many more imprisoned.

January 3, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Military police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors. After months of widespread public anti-government protesting, a violent crackdown saw at least four people killed and many more imprisoned.

January 27, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - A military police officer beats a Buddhist monk during a pro-freedom of speech demonstration. Crackdowns against anti-government protests continued throughout early 2014, ultimately culminating in the assimilation of the opposition party into the main body politic.

January 27, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – A military police officer beats a Buddhist monk during a pro-freedom of speech demonstration. Crackdowns against anti-government protests continued throughout early 2014, ultimately culminating in the assimilation of the opposition party into the main body politic.

February 13, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - For the International New York Times. Mam Sonando celebrates his 72nd birthday (despite what the candles say), in his radio station complex. An outspoken advocate for freedom of speech, Sonando has been a thorn in the side of the incumbent government.

February 13, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia –  Mam Sonando celebrates his 72nd birthday (despite what the candles say), in his radio station complex. An outspoken advocate for freedom of speech, Sonando has been a thorn in the side of the incumbent government. © Luc Forsyth for the International New York Times.

April 14, 2014. Manila, Philippines. Spectators place bets before an underground cock fighting tournament. Cock fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines, with dedicated TV channels. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 14, 2014. Manila, Philippines. Spectators place bets before an underground cock fighting tournament. Cock fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines, with dedicated TV channels. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 14, 2014. Manila, Philippines - The bloody hands of a gaffer, or cock fighting doctor. Gaffers act as veterinarians, tending to wounded fighting cocks. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 14, 2014. Manila, Philippines – The bloody hands of a gaffer, or cock fighting doctor. Gaffers act as veterinarians, tending to wounded fighting cocks. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 19, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - Young men play basketball in the shadow of a beached cargo ship. The force of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda) drove several of these ships onto land, destroying the residential homes in their wake. Nearly six months later, they were still awaiting removal.

April 19, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – Young men play basketball in the shadow of a beached cargo ship. The force of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda) drove several of these ships onto land, destroying the residential homes in their wake. Nearly six months later, they were still awaiting removal.

 

 

 

April 18, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - A family watches a re-enactment of Jesus on the cross during the easter holy week. Tacloban is still a state of recovery after the devastation of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 18, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – A family watches a re-enactment of Jesus on the cross during the easter holy week. Tacloban is still a state of recovery after the devastation of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 19, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - Men sit along the seawall in barangay 68. Colloquially named Yolonda village by locals, the residential neighbourhood was one of the worst impacted by the force of the storm.

April 19, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – Men sit along the seawall in barangay 68. Colloquially named Yolonda village by locals, the residential neighbourhood was one of the worst impacted by the force of the storm.

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - A young boy walks through a residential neighbourhood in Tacloban, littered with debris forced ashore by the force of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – A young boy walks through a residential neighbourhood in Tacloban, littered with debris forced ashore by the force of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - Girls play in the destroyed shell of a home in Tacloban's barangay 68.

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – Girls play in the destroyed shell of a home in Tacloban’s barangay 68.

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines - The coastline of Tacloban, still struggling to rebuild after the devastation of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 20, 2014. Tacloban, Philippines – The coastline of Tacloban, still struggling to rebuild after the devastation of typhoon Haiyan (Yolonda).

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines - A young by heads into an illegal mineshaft where he works ten hours per day hauling unprocessed ore to the surface. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines – A young by heads into an illegal mineshaft where he works ten hours per day hauling unprocessed ore to the surface. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines - A young gold miner loads a bag with raw ore to be carried to the surface. The miners work in near total darkness, and earn a few dollars per day depending on the amount of gold they find. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines – A young gold miner loads a bag with raw ore to be carried to the surface. The miners work in near total darkness, and earn a few dollars per day depending on the amount of gold they find. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 23, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines - Workers crush raw ore into dust before carrying it to a refining station near their illegal mine shaft. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 23, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines – Workers crush raw ore into dust before carrying it to a refining station near their illegal mine shaft. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines - Miners give each other haircuts during their midday break from the tunnels. Heavy smokers to the man, a team of six miners will go through up to six hundred cigarettes in a day's work. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

April 22, 2014. Pinot An, Philippines – Miners give each other haircuts during their midday break from the tunnels. Heavy smokers to the man, a team of six miners will go through up to six hundred cigarettes in a day’s work. ©Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

May 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - A construction worker welds a fence as night falls on Koh Pich (Diamond Island). The island is home to massive development projects, and is planned as a future centre of luxury for Phnom Penh's elite. © Luc Forsyth for the New York Times.

May 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – A construction worker welds a fence as night falls on Koh Pich (Diamond Island). The island is home to massive development projects, and is planned as a future centre of luxury for Phnom Penh’s elite. © Luc Forsyth for the New York Times.

May 8, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia - Residents of a floating village on Cambodia's lake Tonle Sap relax after a day's work. Part of a story funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting about the dangerous future of this important southeast Asian waterway. © Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 8, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia – Residents of a floating village on Cambodia’s lake Tonle Sap relax after a day’s work. Part of a story funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting about the dangerous future of this important southeast Asian waterway. © Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 8, 2014 - Kampong Luong, Cambodia - Fishermen bring their boats into shore at the end of a day's fishing. The Tonle Sap lake is known as "Cambodia's beating heart", and is the source of food and income for millions of Cambodians. ©Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 8, 2014 – Kampong Luong, Cambodia – Fishermen bring their boats into shore at the end of a day’s fishing. The Tonle Sap lake is known as “Cambodia’s beating heart”, and is the source of food and income for millions of Cambodians. ©Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 9, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia - Fishermen unload their day's catch for transport to local markets. As fish stocks dwindle due to over fishing and industrial development, fishermen report significant loss of income. © Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 9, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia – Fishermen unload their day’s catch for transport to local markets. As fish stocks dwindle due to over fishing and industrial development, fishermen report significant loss of income. © Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 10, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Workers sit on a pipe as sand is pumped into Lake Tumpun. The lake was once a major centre of agriculture, but the land reclamation undertaken by private development companies has displaced many of their farms. ©Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

May 10, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Workers sit on a pipe as sand is pumped into Lake Tumpun. The lake was once a major centre of agriculture, but the land reclamation undertaken by private development companies has displaced many of their farms. ©Luc Forsyth / The Virginia Quarterly Review.

June 22, 2014. Kathmandu, Nepal - Balloon sellers on the streets of Jawalakhel.

June 22, 2014. Kathmandu, Nepal – Balloon sellers on the streets of Jawalakhel.

June 22, 2014. Kathmandu, Nepal - Cotton candy vendors sell their wares at a religious festival.

June 22, 2014. Kathmandu, Nepal – Cotton candy vendors sell their wares at a religious festival.

June 22, 2014 - Kathmandu, Nepal. A mounted police officer tries to control crowds in Jawalakhel.

June 22, 2014 – Kathmandu, Nepal. A mounted police officer tries to control crowds in Jawalakhel.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - A rice farmer stands in front of his field as harvesting season begins in Cambodia. ©Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – A rice farmer stands in front of his field as planting season begins in Cambodia. ©Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Rice farmers work to fill in areas of their rice fields where the plants have died. As harvesting season begins, it is essential that the farmers maximize the productivity of their land. © Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Rice farmers work to fill in areas of their rice fields where the plants have died. As planting season begins, it is essential that the farmers maximize the productivity of their land. © Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Workers unload sacks of milled rice in a warehouse of one of Cambodia's largest rice exporting companies. Traditionally not known for producing high quality rice, Cambodia has been trying to get a foothold in international markets in recent years. © Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

July 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Workers unload sacks of milled rice in a warehouse of one of Cambodia’s largest rice exporting companies. Traditionally not known for producing high quality rice, Cambodia has been trying to get a foothold in international markets in recent years. © Luc Forsyth for The New York Times.

October 10, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia - Fishermen wait to head out into Lake Tonle Sap to start the day's fishing. Part of a long term project documenting the health of southeast Asia's waterways. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 10, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia – Fishermen wait to head out into Lake Tonle Sap to start the day’s fishing. Part of a long term project documenting the health of southeast Asia’s waterways. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 10, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia - Workers load basket fulls of snails caught in Lake Tonle Sap. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 10, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia – Workers load basket fulls of snails caught in Lake Tonle Sap. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 10, 2014, Kampong Luong, Cambodia - An ice factory worker fills rectangular moulds which will be frozen and sold as full blocks of ice. Lacking modern refrigerators, ice is an essential means of food preservation for water-dwelling Cambodians. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 10, 2014, Kampong Luong, Cambodia – An ice factory worker fills rectangular moulds which will be frozen and sold as full blocks of ice. Lacking modern refrigerators, ice is an essential means of food preservation for water-dwelling Cambodians. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 11, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia - A worker shreds a block of ice into manageable pieces. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 11, 2014. Kampong Luong, Cambodia – A worker shreds a block of ice into manageable pieces. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

September 13, 2014 - A caged monkey struggles to wrest a piece of fruit from the hands of his owner. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

September 13, 2014 – A caged monkey struggles to wrest a piece of fruit from the hands of his owner. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 14, 2014. Tae Pi, Cambodia - A flower vendor stops in the remote riverside village of Tae Pi. The flowers will be cooked an eaten, and are an important source of vitamins for the villagers. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

October 14, 2014. Tae Pi, Cambodia – A flower vendor stops in the remote riverside village of Tae Pi. The flowers will be cooked and eaten, and are an important source of vitamins for the villagers. © Luc Forsyth / Longtail

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - The annual water festival, celebrating the reversal of the Tonle Sap River's current, returns to Cambodia after a three year hiatus. The last time the festival was held, in 2010, a tragic stampede killed hundreds and led to the event's cancellation. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The annual water festival, celebrating the reversal of the Tonle Sap River’s current, returns to Cambodia after a three year hiatus. The last time the festival was held, in 2010, a tragic stampede killed hundreds and led to the event’s cancellation. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Racing boat teams start practice runs before the day's races start. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Racing boat teams start practice runs before the day’s races start. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Children play in front of the royal palace at sunset after the day's boat races have finished. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 5, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Children play in front of the royal palace at sunset after the day’s boat races have finished. © Luc Forsyth / Getty Images.

November 20, 2014. Nepal - An elderly woman poses with her pug dog in a remote mountain village in the Western Region of Nepal. Part of a project documenting maternal health projects for the United Nations Population Fund.

November 20, 2014. Nepal – An elderly woman poses with her pug dog in the remote mountain village of Khiljee in the Western Region of Nepal. Part of a project documenting maternal health projects for the United Nations Population Fund.

November 20, 2014. Nepal - A man smokes a cigarette in front of his home. Taken while on assignment for the United Nations Population fund on a project documenting maternal health issues in Nepal, Cambodia, and Bangladesh.

November 20, 2014. Nepal – A man smokes a cigarette in front of his home in Khiljee. Taken while on assignment for the United Nations Population fund on a project documenting maternal health issues in Nepal, Cambodia, and Bangladesh.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Objects: The Gapminder Project

Trip Door

When I first started collaborating with the Gapminder Foundation some months ago, it was for a one-day assignment documenting the possessions of a single family in Phnom Penh. Since then, the project has evolved into an international photo-research project covering much of Asia. I recently returned from the Nepal leg of the journey and as I prepare to face the intimidating challenge of sifting through five thousand-odd images and forming them into a coherent collection, I finally had time to reflect on this unique experience.

I posted once already about the Gapminder Project after completing the Cambodian portion of the job, but my perspective on the concept has changed dramatically since that time. For those who have never heard of Gapminder before, I would encourage you to watch this TED Talk given by the organization’s founder, Hans Rosling. Its innovative approach to understanding global poverty, as well as Hans’ talents as a public speaker have made it one of the top fifteen most watched talks in TED history – no small feat when considering the plethora of fascinating  presentations that have been hosted over the years.

Gapminder, unlike most non-profit organizations I have worked with in the past, has no direct involvement in the traditional sense of development. They have no regional offices, no permanent field staff, and no branded SUVs crisscrossing the countryside. Instead, Gapminder focuses on the collection and analysis of data, which they then present in an easily understandable format so that even the most statistically challenged among us can grasp. Where I often get lost in the chart-heavy depth of year-end reports, Gapminder turns ingesting huge quantities of data into an engaging experience. Similarly, it is nearly impossible for me to explain the simplistic functionality of the Gapminder system in so many words, so do yourself a favour and watch the TED Talk to see what I mean.

Building on the runaway success of their initial effort to create the world’s first “fact-based world view” that everyone can understand, Gapminder decided to take the project one step further. Dispatching myself to cover Asia, American photojournalist Zoriah Miller to Africa, and a string of local photographers to fill in the rest, Gapminder is in the process of compiling a comprehensive visual database of living conditions around the world.

Trip Broom

TripTools

When completed, viewers will be able to filter through thousands of photographs and video clips, sorting them by region, economic status, occupation, as well as other factors, to see for themselves what life might look like had they been born in a rural village in Nepal, or in an impoverished urban community in Uganda.Through hundreds of meticulously documented items  ranging from teeth to toothbrushes to toys, this platform, when completed, will provide a one-of-a-kind visual reference for anyone trying to better understand the world around them.

Since I’ve finally had a few free days after an extremely busy month, I decided to pull out a few of my favourite images and group them together so you can get a sense of how powerful these simple frames can be, especially when juxtaposed. As Gapminder spelled out clearly to me in the project brief, the point is not to take arty pictures of toilets but to highlight the similarities and differences between cultures and classes through the everyday objects that define our lives.

After a few months of much needed down time, shooting for the Gapminder project will continue in Bangladesh in early 2015.

Trip toys

TripDecoration

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Underground Cock Fighting in Manila Revisited

Last month my editor at Getty Images gave me the rare opportunity to revisit some of my old stories from the Philippines: Small scale gold mining in southern Leyte, and the underground cock fighting scene in Manila.

I was first introduced to the world of cock fighting when I decided to move out of my guest house in Manila and onto a fighting cock training farm in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres Bukid. In metro Manila, where space is in short supply, the “farm” was really just an empty lot between two houses. But shaded by tall bamboo thickets and closed off from the hustle of the streets by a tall iron gate – ominously topped in concertina wire – the training centre proved to be one of the most relaxing places I’ve yet to find in a city of nearly 12 million.

Floren Castillio, whose house in little more than a tarped bed he shares with his wife and granddaughter, is the farm’s caretaker and a well respected “gaffer” – a combination of fighting cock trainer and amateur veterinarian. Two years ago, when I first met Floren, he unhesitatingly agreed to allow me to set up a tent on his property within the first hour of meeting him. During the month or so I stayed there, he greeted me each morning with a cup of coffee and recoiled whenever I tried to pay him rent. Even though I hadn’t had any contact with the man since 2012, when I showed up again out of the blue he immediately went to his small storage closet, pulled out my old tent, and asked me how long I wanted to stay.

Though a tight work schedule limited my time in Manila and I couldn’t spend as much time with Floren as I would have liked, he was instrumental in getting me access to the underground cock fighting scene once again. Animal ethics aside, cock fighting is one of the most popular national sports in the Philippines, and it takes place nearly every day in the country, from Manila’s backstreets to massive government sanctioned arenas.

This story was shot over a day and a half in the neighbourhoods of San Andres Bukid and Raymundo. All images are the exclusive property of Getty Images.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced - sometimes with heavier turkey feathers - to give the birds increased balance and stability.

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced – sometimes with heavier turkey feathers – to give the birds increased balance and stability. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren's bloody body after a morning of giving surgery.

Floren’s bloody body after a morning of giving surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren's property, looking for a potential bird to buy.

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren’s property, looking for a potential bird to buy. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A group gathers on Floren's farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning.

A group gathers on Floren’s farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds.

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets.

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month's pay on a single fight.

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month’s pay on a single fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day.

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight.

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day's fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer.

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day’s fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet.

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of  each fight.

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Versions of this story appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! News.  These photos are the exclusive property of Getty Images and may not be used without consent – all images are available for purchase here.

 

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No Build Zone: Life in Tacloban After Typhoon Haiyan (Preview)

For most of the month of April I was working at a feverish pace in the Philippines, where I accepted a somewhat ambitious 11 assignments in a three week window. Despite an inconveniently timed three day fever (which caused me to pass out in front of about 50 Filipino cock fighting gamblers), unreliable communication networks, damaged equipment, and a visit from President Obama that brought air traffic to a standstill, everything miraculously got done.

Somehow, during the midst of all this running around, I found a few afternoons to visit some of the neighbourhoods in Tacloban most heavily damaged by typhoon Haiyan. The most powerful storm ever recorded to make landfall, Haiyan (or Yolanda as it is referred to locally), smashed into the central Philippines last November, killing thousands and rendering many more homeless. Nearly six months after the initial devastation, coastal residents of Barangay 68 – colloquially named Yolanda Village by residents – are struggling to rebuild what they lost.

Young men play basketball in front of a  beached cargo ship. Several large ships are awaiting removal after being swept onto land during typhoon Haiyan.  Luc Forsyth/Ruom

Young men play basketball in front of a beached cargo ship. Several large ships are awaiting removal after being swept onto land during typhoon Haiyan. Luc Forsyth/Ruom

Reconstruction in Tacloban

The catholic cathedral in Palo, on the outskirts of Tacloban, remains without a roof after it was torn off by the winds of typhoon Haiyan. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

Though cleanup efforts have had the full support of the community and assistance from international aid organizations, evidence of the destruction is everywhere. Several large cargo vessels rest unnaturally at the base of inland hills, roughly a hundred meters from the ocean. Shipping containers and other maritime debris can be found along the beaches and between rebuilt houses, like alien artifacts in the residential community.

For those who have managed to repair or replace the homes they lost, the challenges are far from over. A government mandated “no build zone” extends forty meters from the ocean, meaning that anyone who has rebuilt near the coast – and is therefore illegally squatting according to the law – could face homelessness again at any moment. While hospitality and friendliness are abundant for visitors to Yolanda village, for those who live there the road to recovery will be a long one.

Thousands of hardened cement bags are piled along the coast to build temporary piers and breakwaters. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

Thousands of hardened cement bags are piled along the coast to build temporary piers and breakwaters. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

Young men drink bottles of beer together  over the easter weekend. Many residents of Tacloban have lost their jobs due to storm damage and have little to do during the days. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

Young men drink bottles of beer together over the easter weekend. Many residents of Tacloban have lost their jobs due to storm damage and have little to do during the days. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

A young man plays guitar on a pier in Barangay 68, one of the neighbourhoods hardest hit by typhoon Haiyan. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

A young man plays guitar on a pier in Barangay 68, one of the neighbourhoods hardest hit by typhoon Haiyan. Luc Forsyth/Ruom.

These images represent a short preview of a larger set of pictures that I will post when I’ve had a chance to organize my archive and thoughts – and repair a broken laptop!

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Underwater Gold Miners in Southern Leyte

I spent a month in Leyte last year while working on a story about independent (illegal) gold miners in the Philippines. When I heard about the magnitude of typhoon Haiyan, and that it had devastated Leyte’s largest city, Tacloban, I immediately thought of these guys.

I recently heard from a friend who used to live on Leyte, and still kept in contact with some of her old friends. Many have lost their families, and I fear the worst for the gold miners I met.

Working along the gold rich coasts of the island, these miners spend up to 10 hours a day dredging the sea floor for ore using only their hands and empty rice bags. They make their own goggles from coconuts and polished glass bottles, and most wear only flip flops as diving shoes. Their air comes through thin plastic tubes which is pumped from a small compressor on shore. Any tangle or kink in the lines would mean drowning.

The gold they find is extracted from the ore at handmade washing stations along the beach, and then sold to small-scale local buyers. From here the gold leaves the island and is taken to larger buyers who smelt the gold into disks or bricks of pure gold before shipping the product to the gold markets of Manila. For their part in the operation the divers will see very little of the profit, and despite finding gold nearly every day, are only just able to support their families on what they make.

As much as I would like to hope, I think it would be naive to imagine none of these people have been affected by the Haiyan disaster. These people had a rough life to begin with, and it has gotten much, much harder. They were extremely welcoming to me, and once things settle down I plan to make a trip to see what their situation is and how I can help.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

Thin air tubes are connected to a compressor. Mining also takes place in the ocean and though extremely dangerous, workers use this air system to breathe rather than more expensive scuba gear.

An underwater miner prepares to dive. The miners often make their own goggles out of wood and polished glass bottles.

An underwater miner prepares to dive. The miners often make their own goggles out of wood and polished glass bottles.

Two senior miners monitor the diving, watching the air tubes for kinks or signs of trouble. Since the divers are weighted with large boulders any failure in the air system can be fatal.

Two senior miners monitor the diving, watching the air tubes for kinks or signs of trouble. Since the divers are weighted with large boulders any failure in the air system can be fatal.

A miner hauls unprocessed rock from the seabed onto the beach.

A miner hauls unprocessed rock from the seabed onto the beach.

A boy washes crushed rock to separate the sand and mud from the gold dust.

A boy washes crushed rock to separate the sand and mud from the gold dust.

Liquid mercury is used to separate the gold from the sand and mud. Extremely poisonous, the use of mercury for mining is illegal in most countries, including the Philippines.

Liquid mercury is used to separate the gold from the sand and mud. Extremely poisonous, the use of mercury for mining is illegal in most countries, including the Philippines.

The raw gold is melted in ceramic bowls to solidify it into circular disks in a refinery on the neighbouring island of Mindanao.

The raw gold is melted in ceramic bowls to solidify it into circular disks in a refinery on the neighbouring island of Mindanao.

A disk of pure gold, ready to be sold.

A disk of pure gold, ready to be sold.

A low-level buyer weighs the day’s gold. When he has collected enough to make the trip profitable, he will transport the gold to the neighbouring island of Mindanao for refining.

A low-level buyer weighs the day’s gold. When he has collected enough to make the trip profitable, he will transport the gold to the neighbouring island of Mindanao for refining.

A gold market in Chinatown, Manila. Some of the gold from Pinot An makes its way to the nation’s capital, though the vast majority is smuggled out of the country.

A gold market in Chinatown, Manila. Some of the gold from Pinot An makes its way to the nation’s capital, though the vast majority is smuggled out of the country.

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Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

In September 2012 I arrived in Manila with no idea of what I was doing there and no story ideas whatsoever. But through a series of random meetings and strange luck I was invited to pitch a tent in an empty patch of land in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres. Though living in a tent in the middle of metro Manila was strange enough, the piece of land I was living on also happened to be the site of an underground cock-fighting farm and training ground. I wrote a short article at the time talking a little about what it was like to live on the farm, but I neglected to post many photos for some reason or another. After digging around in my archives I realized that I had quite a few decent images and thought I’d post a more comprehensive visual story about these illegal death matches happening in the street outside my front door, so to speak.

From the cradle to the grave, these animals are raised only to fight, and most likely die. Large amounts of money can be won on these fights, so a champion bird will most probably fight again and again until he is no longer able to win. Since the blades used are 10cm long and razor sharp, not winning is probably synonymous with death – though there is a potential for the lucky to receive only a blinding or severe maiming.

The fights are illegal. Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is even broadcast on TV, but those fights are regulated and licensed. The fights on the streets of San Andres were underground and subject to police raids. On more than one occasion the local police rushed into the area on motorcycles after a fight was over and admonished the watchers. Typically the losing bird (most likely dead), was given to the officers in payment, presumably to be grilled and eaten down the street at the local police station. Illegal or not, the fights are going to happen, and the police accept this as long as they get something out of it.

What I found particularly confusing about the whole spectacle is the bipolar nature of the affection for the birds. When alive, the proud owners would hold them up and stroke them lovingly. They display them and compare them to their friends birds. A champion is treated like a beloved pet. They obviously care about them greatly, yet the moment the cock loses a fight it is tossed into the gutter like a piece of trash. When I asked one of my local friends, an owner himself, how they can have such a dismissive attitude towards an animal they had spent so much time with, he replied simply “fighting cocks are for fighting.”

I should maybe mention that this story is perhaps not as comprehensive and exposing as I would have liked it to be because after a few days of shooting I realized that I was making enemies. Apparently many of the bird owners believed that it was bad luck to have their fighters photographed and legitimately blamed me for their loss. So out of a mixture of respect for their beliefs and fear of their anger, I stopped taking pictures of the fights themselves.

Note: Some of these images are bloody. This is not a case study in animal rights or ethics. I have my own opinions on cock-fighting and this story is neither condemning nor supporting the practice.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock's eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock’s eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

Knives are passed between gaffers.

Knives are passed between gaffers so the cocks can be readied for fighting.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock's foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock’s foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock's foot before the fight begins.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock’s foot before the fight begins.

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

Luc_Forsyth_Manila_Philippines_illegal_cock_fighting_20120901-0502

A dead cock, kicked through the heart by one of the 10cm blades.

The exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

An exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

Blood drips on Floren's feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

Blood drips on Floren’s feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

An onsite incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

An  incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

A young fighting cock, to small yet to fight, is tethered to a fence in San Andres.

A young fighting cock, too small yet to fight.

 

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Farewell to Manila

It’s been exceptionally tough to find a decent internet connection since arriving in Burma, but now that I’ve found one I wanted to add a few final images from Manila that I especially like. A great city with a million stories to tell.

Look for new stuff from Burma to start popping up in the next few weeks.

A newly born baby with his mother in a community built under an overpass in Quiapo

The San Andres Bukit skyline. A lower class neighbourhood, San Andres is a mixture of familial compounds and squatter communities. In the background is Makati, one of Manila’s most affluent areas.

M.J., 15, is addicted to sniffing solvents. She lives under a ledge behind a commercial complex in Quaipo.

 

A man in his house in San Andres the day before he prepares to depart for Qatar for work. Many Filipinos work overseas since local wages are often not enough to support their families.

 

The hand of a young girl in San Andres.

 

A cross hangs in Quiapo. The Philippines is overwhelmingly a catholic country.

Two girls in a squatter house, San Andres.

Men passing a bottle of rum in San Andres. Excessive drinking is common in Manila’s lower class neighbourhoods, as the price of alcohol is extremely low in the Philippines.

A woman runs a small cigarette shop under an overpass in Quiapo.

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Raphael’s Story

I met Raphael through a friend, living in the market district of Divisoria, Manila. Four months ago he fell down the stairs of his squatter apartment while drunk and cracked his spine. Unable to afford medical treatment he can only lay on his back in the small bedroom while his brother helps him as best he can. He urinates into small plastic containers and is unable to stand long enough to shower or bathe. Since he can’t pay for a trip to the hospital he has no way of knowing when or if his injuries will heal.

Raphael lies in the sweltering heat of his small room, using plastic containers for urinating. He has already been laying in this position for four months and recovery seems a long way off – if ever.

Pain killers have been donated, as his family cannot afford to buy medicine. He and his brothers repaired an old radio to give him some form of entertainment.

Raphael’s brother takes care of him as best he can. Since Raphael cannot work, his family sacrifices to help him.

The house is simple and small, approximately ten square meters for three people.

Raphael does workouts using a broom handle to try and regain mobility in his legs.

Raphael is patient and hopeful, but extremely frustrated by his situation.

Raphael reads the bible daily, drawing inspiration and hope.

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Tattoos of San Andres

While I continue living in San Andres, Manila, I thought I’d post some of the dozens of tattoo photos I’ve collected. Tattoo culture in the Philippines is thriving, especially in the last few year. Some of these are merely decorative, while some have gang or prison connotations.

A prison tattoo, designating the name of the jail and the specific cell block.

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Up Close and Extremely Personal

A disabled woman sits in a squatter’s community in San Andres, Manila. Shot at 17mm, this image required getting very close.

Photography is only interesting if it is showing you something you can’t see on your own. What I have learned since starting photojournalism full time is that taking pictures, mechanically speaking, is not the difficult part. Entering someone’s private space and staying there is what takes it out of you. The Himalayas; an endangered tribe in Papua New Guinea; a disabled person living in poverty, sitting in an alley watching a Bingo game. We want to glimpse something rare, and it we want it to be intimate. Everyone is a voyeur. That’s why so many of your friend’s travel pictures are boring, they don’t really communicate the feeling of being there. They don’t tell a story. To get those sorts of images you have to get close. Very close.

By close I don’t only mean physical distance, though this is often important. I mean you need to be completely involved and interactive with your subject. For a landscape photographer that would mean getting up at 3am and hiking to the peak of the mountain to capture a sunrise that few have ever seen. For me, working with people, it means trying to gain acceptance from a person I have never met in a strange, and typically uncomfortable, environment.

I’m learning this as I go, and I definitely can’t claim to have mastered this craft by any stretch. But what I now realize is that most of the great pictures I have come to respect and love were the product of a lot of work. Where I once imagined that my photographic (or any other creative) idols just turned up in exotic locations with high-end equipment and waited for interesting situations to unfold around them, I now know this was utterly wrong. Opportunities have to be created, not expected.

I’ve been traveling obsessively with a camera for a large part of the last decade, but in the majority of my early stuff the images lack soul. It is only by actively creating opportunities that this becomes possible. I don’t want to say that I am now constantly producing emotional masterpieces, but my pictures are starting to come closer to replicating my experiences. And it is by far the most mentally exhausting thing I have ever done.

It is lonely. In the Philippines friendly people surround me all day, yet I am a definite outsider. I don’t speak the language, and though Filipinos are to be commended for their English abilities, there is a communication breakdown during most conversations. I have to limit myself to speaking in clear and concise sentences, and usually keep the topics to observable facts, like “it is hot today.” I also don’t really know what people think of me. Though I feel welcome, I am unsure if there is hidden resentment at my relative wealth. Or the incredible fact that the local cantinas will not allow me to pay for any of my meals, which both melts my heart and further solidifies my status as separate from the locals, who pay full price.

It is stressful. The communities that I have chosen to focus on – San Andres, Quiapo and Tondo – are not heavily touristed because of the high crime rates. Around the corner from where I am camping, a 13-year-old girl was raped a few weeks ago on the main street. At noon. The rapists sewed her lips together with chicken wire. On several occasions I have been stalked by solvent addicts or drunks, who tail me at a distance as I walk. The families who have taken to looking out for me are constantly cautioning me against walking down certain streets. Though I have had no problems to date, these warnings take a heavy psychological toll on me. Going out to shoot everyday has become a mental battle with myself as I weigh the dangers against the opportunities. Looking for interesting subjects while also watching my back is a skill that I’m learning on the fly, and it is draining.

These are the realities of this job that I was never able to fully appreciate before. As my mentor Zoriah Miller told me, “success in photojournalism is all about what you’re prepared to sacrifice” – and the price is high.

For my current project, True Manila, I am trying to give an honest account of what life is like for the average working class Filipino. Not focusing unfairly on squalor, but a balanced view of life in this city – the good and the bad, the unfortunate and the dignified. While I don’t expect the final edit to be ready until mid October, I will be posting updates as I go. Subscribe to my feed if you’d to get these sent to your email address.

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