Paolo Marchetti spent three months among Italian skinheads before gaining enough of their trust to take his first photograph.

Souvid Datta spent three years nurturing sources before wrangling eight hours to photograph a secret house where kidnapped girls are held on their way to the brothels of Calcutta.

Giulio Di Sturco spent eight years following the Ganges through India and Bangladesh, gaining access to factories and chemical plants to show, in images, how gravely polluted the river has become.

Three photojournalists, three important stories documenting political, social and environmental issues which, though they may be happening hundreds or thousands of miles from where you’re reading this, are crucial to the human race and our survival on this planet.

But despite the critical nature of these issues, with the shifting media and technology landscape, it never has been more difficult for photojournalists to find funding for this kind of work.

Marchetti, Datta and Di Sturco were fortunate enough to win Getty Images Editorial Grants, in 2012, 2015 and 2014 respectively, which allowed them the financial means to continue their important projects. As a result, Marchetti’s look at fascism across five countries, “Fever,” reached international acclaim; Datta’s project is ready to be published; and Di Sturco’s “Ganges: Death of a River” will be released as a book later this year. This means their work can reach people at scale, inspiring and enabling action that could potentially make the world a better place.

“Reality is complex,” Marchetti said recently from Visa Pour L’Image, the world’s most important photojournalism festival (Getty Images is a sponsor). “We have to commit ourselves in order to travel in the middle of each layer. This is the only way to analyze what is happening around us and leave a legacy for the youngest, most vulnerable population.”

He is right.

 

Behind the Curtain of European Fascists

Hundreds of people attend the Nazi Rock concert in Rome in May, 2013. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
Hundreds of people attend the Nazi Rock concert in Rome in May, 2013. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner

With “Fever,” Marchetti’s goal was to explore the concept of rage by illustrating how this emotion manifests in politics across various socio-economic classes. He began his project in Italy, where he is from, before expanding his story to include Germany, Hungary, Finland and Spain.

“I have always been interested in Fascism, even though my cultural background is from the opposite side,” Marchetti said, remembering that even as a child, in school or on the street, he was exposed to Fascist philosophies and violent language.

“At the same time, I wanted to better understand why. … What triggers the rage?”

Atte, 33 years old, an historical skinhead of Helsinki, in Finland rides a public bus on July 20, 2013. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant Winner
Atte, 33, a skinhead of Helsinki, Finland rides a public bus on July 20, 2013. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant Winner
At the "Prima Porta" Cemetery in Rome, May 19, 2013. The "SPQR Skins," gather during the commemoration of a friend who died a few years ago. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
At the “Prima Porta” Cemetery in Rome, May 19, 2013. The “SPQR Skins” gather to commemorate a comrade who died a few years ago. Photo by Paolo Marchetti, 2012 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner

He approached this series without judgement, instead providing an unfiltered look at racism and Fascism in Europe. It serves as a visual warning that illustrates how easily rage can spread via the guise of politics.

“The Getty Images grant was my baptism at an international level,” Marchetti said. “Starting from that moment, my life completely changed. It was my chance to work abroad.”

 

The Sick, Secret Way Children Are Trafficked in India

As evening falls, Beauty, 16, enters her brothel with a regular customer or "Babu." Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
As evening falls, Beauty, 16, enters her brothel with a regular customer or “Babu.” Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner

Datta’s work in India also is unflinching.

As he pursued his initial project, “Sonagachi,” intending to humanize the women and children of Calcutta’s red light district, Datta discovered a harrowing statistic: He learned that last year, 14,000 children went missing in the Indian state of West Bengal, most of them trafficked by kidnapping and/or child marriage.

So, through his work, he made it his mission to zoom out from the brothels themselves and instead focus on the social and economic issues driving this epidemic in India.

He spent time with the police, with NGOs and with families in rural villages who may never see their children again – and he ultimately was able to photograph a halfway house “grooming center,” where children are taken for weeks before they are brought into brothel life.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was going there,” he said. “… It was psychologically exhausting.”

Pinki, 17, grimaces in the embrace of an elder customer. Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
Pinki, 17, grimaces in the embrace of an elder customer. Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
The brothel is late to awaken in the morning after a long night. As Beauty rouses, the daughter of a local sex-worker passes by to lovingly tie her hair. Children here often do not attend school and are exposed to the street system of violence, exploitation and male aggression from a young, impressionable age. Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
The brothel is late to awaken in the morning after a long night. As Beauty, 16, rouses, the daughter of a local sex-worker passes by to tie her hair. Children here often do not attend school and are exposed to the street system of violence, exploitation and male aggression from a young age. Photo by Souvid Datta, 2015 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner

Datta then spent time with a human trafficking unit of the police force, and while he was impressed with their dedication, he was dismayed to learn that they were painfully understaffed. Thirty-three officers were tasked with finding thousands of missing children.

“The story is one where you have to be there for a while,” Datta said in an interview at Visa Pour L’Image. “The grant money helped me spend time with the right people, develop the right relationships and get the right access.”

 

Black Water of the Ganges

Cruise ships sit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the polluted waters of the Ganges River. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant Winner
Cruise ships sit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the polluted waters of the Ganges River. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant Winner

Di Sturco began photographing the Ganges soon after moving to India in 2009, when he discovered the river could be an effective visual metaphor for how India was changing – economically, politically and socially. But what he ended up experiencing was an up-close view of extreme pollution, with factories dumping chemical waste just a few kilometers away from where people bathe in the river for religious purposes.

After receiving his grant funding, Di Sturco was able to follow the Ganges to its end and also cover the story of the river in neighboring Bangladesh.

A week before Christmas my fixer called me and told me there was an oil spill in the Sunderbans in Bangladesh. The accident happened in a dolphin sanctuary, which was a protected part of the river. I knew the project had come full circle with this news and left for Bangladesh immediately.  When I arrived, most of the oil had been cleaned out of the water but there was a lot of residue stuck to the vegetation on the banks. The fishermen had been cleaning it up in small teams. I spent a week traveling along the river visiting the villages. It wasn’t a huge spill but the effects were still devastating. I was told the oil had absorbed in to the soil and would effect the vegetation quite dramatically. For me the Sunderbans was the final frontier for man made destruction on the Ganges, a place untouched for fear of the Bengal tigers, even when it was impossible to physically venture deeper in to the area and construct, a clumsy mistake has marred the area. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner.
The aftermath of an oil spill inthe Ganges river,  in the Sunderbans region of Bangladesh. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner.

 

After an oil spill in the Ganges in the Sunderbans region of Bangladesh fishermen began cleaning the river in small teams. Though the spill was small in comparison to larger disasters, the effects were still devastating to the river and surrounding vegetation. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner
After an oil spill in the Sunderbans region of Bangladesh fishermen began cleaning the Ganges in small teams. Although the spill was small in comparison to larger disasters, the effects still were devastating to the river and surrounding vegetation. Photo by Giulio Di Sturco, 2014 Getty Images Editorial Grant winner

“Everything that was happening with the river in India was happening in Bangladesh, but 10 times more,” he said recently from Visa Pour L’Image. In Dhaka, for example, he discovered that for about 7 kilometers, the river was completely dead.

“There are no fish, no plants, nothing,” he said. “The water is actually black.”

The grant allowed Di Sturco to make three trips to Bangladesh and complete his project – an important one as the Ganges is expected to become a seasonal river by 2025, a casualty of climate change.

“The Bangladeshi part is as important as the Indian part,” he said.

 

More Stories to Tell

At Visa Pour L’Image this year, five new Getty Images Editorial Grant winners were named, and each presented a glimpse into their work:

  • Sergey Ponomarev focused on the migrants and refugees of the Middle East and Africa;
  • Katie Orlinsky examined the effects of climate change on Alaska’s native people;
  • Mary Frances Calvert offered a look at the reality of American military rape survivors who are forced out of service;
  • Jonathan Torgovnik detailed the plight of African refugees seeking a better life in South Africa and finding harsh conditions; and
  • Kirsten Luce documented the busiest corridor for human and drug trafficking in the US, along the Mexican border.

These are all stories where a superficial approach could never illustrate the complexities of the situations in a meaningful way.

Being there for a while matters.

 

See more powerful photojournalism from Getty Images on our Reportage blog