Monday, January 19, 2009

Gripped By Fear

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 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)
Kandahar, Afghanistan

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.


Indrayani aka, Indi! said...

Oh my god!! wat an experience!!
I felt everythin you had written...powerful words!! :)

I do a feature on my blog 'blogspot of the week'.
This week thru today and 27th , I am puttin you up there....

This was awesome!!
Breathtaking !!
Keep writing....

Cheryl said...

You'd be the coolest person to tell campfire stories with.

A Beautiful Mind said...

Wow.. So, when and how do you get to a point where you are able to drown it all out or rather take it all in and process it quickly enough to be able to focus on taking the photographs?

Ron said...

Indi: Thank you for adding me to your feature. I'm very honored, and thanks for following the blog.

Cheryl: You are hilarious! Crack me up! This is not a campfire it? LOL

Beautiful Mind: I will gladly answer your question in the next post. Stay tuned.

Cheryl said...

Dude, a campfire story is what you make it! Have I taught you nothing? And besides, a story beginning with "I fucking shit myself when this grenade went off beside me" is so much better than one beginning with "I see dead people, man. They're coming after me!"

I know you're nodding your head right now, as you sit in your creepy darkroom supposedly developing pictures.

The Demigoddess said...

Oh, I remember this story, Ron. Reading about it from your journal,though, I feel like I am walking through the war zone with you. Did I tell you that you are just as great with words as you are with your pictures? Great job on this one!


Ron said...

Cheryl: I would pay to have YOU write your version of this story! I'd love to read it. Give me your twist,but keep the facts. Shoot, maybe I'll just have to take you camping with me next time. You up for shittin' in the bush?

Demigoddess: Well, this is my raw account of me bein' a wussy and not able to shoot b'cuz I was terrified! Kinda easy to write about actually...:p Glad to have you alongside!

John said...

Ask all the readers of your blog:

How many of you had experienced gunfire, took cover, and survived?

Answer: Most probably zilch.

That, was fucking crazy dude! I would have peed in my pants and probably shitted too. That is, if I'm not wearing my GA jeans, of course ;)

John said...

Sorry, I meant AJ - Armani Jeans.

Cheryl said...

It's coming to me, just wait for it. I'll send you my version of your story some time tomorrow; and you know I'm always up for taking cover and shittin' in bushes!

DUTA said...

You're a soldier whether you're aware of it or not. You shoot with the camera whereas the other shoots with the rifle or other weapon -but both of you are under or close to fire and trying to survive.

Young Traveler said...

You an amazing story teller. I'll also be following.


Hillbilly Duhn said...

Incredible. It takes guts though, to do what you do. Many people wouldn't bother or even take the chance.

Every time I read something of yours, I get all emotional. If you're not posting pictures, your words paint a pretty clear picture.

Powerful indeed, because of your experiences. Campfire stories hell, you can sit at my kitchen table eat squirrel and talk, I'll listen, and probably cry...

Bon Don said...

My little heart can’t take this!! Why must I torture myself with these actions packed stories? Oh I know, because they are amazing!! Great I think I just pooped a little… :)

*Bon Don*

Ron said...

John: If you were your nice jeans out there, then you probably deserved to be shot..LOL, kidding!

Cheryl: Alright, when you come back to Canada, we're going's ON for shittin' in bushes!

Duta: You're right, I am a soldier. When I'm out there, I move like a soldier, eat, sleep, and suffer just like they do. The only difference is our method of shooting.

Jessie: Glad to see you made it over to my little blog. Hope to see you back soon. Thanks!

Hillbilly: It's ok, you can cry. I usually cry too...alone. I'm just as emotional!

Bon Don: Ewwww, you just stunk up this whole comment section :)
But you're VIP here, you can do whatever you want!

Errant Gosling said...

Wow. My life seems decidedly boring all of a sudden. Wonderful post.