Covering war is the hardest, most dangerous and most exciting part of any photographers career. It's not just a job, it's a way of life. It's the ability to cope with fear, know where to go, what to do, and being able to make fast-rational decisions in unconventional ways.
Friends constantly ask me if I ever feel fear when I’m shooting. In short, yes, I’m always scared. You begin to lose sight of the world when you’re no longer in fear of where you’re at. Any photographer who tells you he's never scared is a fool or a liar, and probably both. Fear is what kept me alive. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Under fire, you swear you'll never do it again. But when the dust settles and the shooting subsides, you look upon the faces of the innocent lives around you, and you realize that this is their daily existence. It encompasses every waking moment of their lives. They are hungry, exhausted--exhausted by violence...by turmoil...by bombings and gunfire and kidnappings and destruction and fear and helplessness and hopelessness. Exhausted by death. Exhausted by life.
As a photographer, you journey on. You pick up your camera, wipe your lens and vow to make every frame count.
Journal From The Front Lines
March 24/25, 2002 (excerpts)
I've been assigned with a group of 75 elite Canadian soldiers whose task is to patrol the hills surrounding Kandahar. We are travelling in a convoy of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV III's), as American F18's and Apache helicopters provide air support above us. One soldier had also mentioned that a Death Star 130 Drone is also hovering to provide minute by minute visuals back to Central Command (CENTCOM). These guys can truly summon up fire power whenever they need it. A truly elite operation.
But no matter how sophisticated we may be, I know for certain that the enemy can easily launch an attack on us and take down even the toughest of any well equipped soldier...which is exactly what happened today.
It was all so quick.
While heading towards a bridge, we spotted a group of insurgents with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) aiming directly at us. All I heard was someone yelling "incoming!" Followed by a distant shriek that ripped through the air, almost like fireworks on the fourth of July. Instantly we all began to move in a scatter formation, keeping enough distance between each and every one of us. I followed PFC Steve Cole to the back of our LAV. I felt the adrenaline in my veins wanting to explode, as loud booms and machine guns echoed in the air.
As our LAV took more incoming rounds, Cole and I ran towards a nearby house made of mud and clay. I was lost. Didn't know what to do. My camera kept rolling, aimed at the ground. I was too scared to shoot.
Suddenly, the wall we were hiding behind also started to take fire. Quickly, we moved back. I was reluctant to leave the cover of the wall until I realized I was the only one still there. Afraid of being left behind, I scrambled over the wall of a nearby compound and moved through a garden blooming with purple flowers. Looking across the roadway, I noticed a Canadian RG-31 heavy armored vehicle raced to fill the space in the firing line. "Get behind the RG!" shouted Cole. I followed him. My camera still pointed downwards.
From a distance, I see a group of soldiers carrying one of their own towards the RG vehicle. Realizing that I still had a camera on my shoulder, I pointed upwards and got the shot. After loading the injured, Cole and I got in and retreated back to base.
It was the longest 4 minutes of my life--full of adrenaline and fear. I felt my heart skipped more beats than bullets fired.
"It shows how all the military might in the world can't stand up to 10 ragtag fighters who believe God is on their side," a fellow embedded photographer said. With my face buried in my hands, I looked up and stared him straight in the eye, "that was fucked up," I replied.