Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tears Thru A Lens

Photo: Flowers mark the site of a school demolished by the earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.

It was just after 7am when I awoke in our vehicle. Looking out the window, it was as if I had died and gone to hell. Buildings were torn, ripped apart, left to slowly crumble in the aftermath of natures fury. It's truly surreal to see such destruction with your very own eyes--naked to the truth, privy to nothing.

Acknowledging my arrival at the epicenter of the quake, my heart began to pound, my palms sweaty, my camera turned on--finger ready at the trigger. I was excited,anxious,proud to be one of the few foreign photogs allowed access to this area. My translator and I had worked effortlessly through the night--weaving our way through back channels of communication,trying desperately to convince our Chinese officials to let us into the restricted zone. After a few rounds of rice wine, phone calls and hand shakes, we finally received the go-ahead.

Stepping out of the vehicle, I ran for my tripod, quickly dropped its legs to the ground and mounted my camera. It didn't matter to me where I was, what I was doing or who was looking. All I wanted was to capture the destruction, the turmoil, the loss and devastation of a country that neither clung to my heart nor mattered much to my psyche. This is China--and for all I cared, what I was filming was epic news, heart wrenching, television at its best. Journalists from all over the world yearn for this moment, they dream of this chance--and here I am, deep in the midst of tragedy, soaking in the rays of light that entered my lens. I'm lucky, I know.

I zoomed in and out, close ups and wides. No matter where I pointed my camera, a kaleidoscope of shapes and patterns formed images of loss--of pain and displeasure--ultimately feeding my appetite with what I had longed to taste.

Broken chairs littered the ground. A single shoe, a child's hat. Calendars hung from wall to wall, slanted--stopped in time, motionless in space. A cloud of white dust glistened my shoes as I walked about--scanning my surrounding like a vulture waiting for the dead. Looking up, I noticed a chalk-board stood half broken. Zooming into it, I pulled-focused on a line of scribbles that resembled a child's hand writing. Small finger prints littered an empty black surface.

Putting my camera down, I viewed the room for the first time with my own bare eyes. A haze of white smoke danced in the light as I stood still. And within a synapse of a moment, my world had stopped spinning. Motionless. Barely able to breathe. Barely able to come to terms with myself as I realized where I was standing. Putting my head down, a teddy bear on a child's lunch box stared back at me. My stomach churned. My throat caught in rapture. I walked out of that school room with out taking another shot.

I've been in this type of situation before--when I use my camera a shield of honor, of valor and faith, courage and distinction--only to find myself caught in my own array of guilt and shame. Sometimes, when caught in the moment, I lose sight of who I am, the morals instilled within me and the respect for human life I've learned to value. I guess, after working so hard to gain access to this area, I had forgotten the true purpose for why I perform the task that I'm given.

By the time I had made it back to the meeting point, my translator was already waiting for me in the car. Her eyes were stained in tears. Running her hands across her face, she tells me that over 200 school children were buried at this site. Alive.

Looking around, I noticed I had drawn a crowd. Local elders, parents and children were there to greet me. Some shook my hand, not knowing exactly why. But as I locked eyes with them, I saw their pain. It's an image I can never forgive myself to capture, nor will I ever try to. I spent the rest of my time shooting from afar, creatively finding other angles to tell this story. I didn't want it to look like a piece you'd watch on CNN or some low budget TV station glamorizing the loss of human life. It's the least I could do.

I didn't sleep that night. I tried to keep myself busy by spending hours returning emails back to HQ, writing scripts or Christmas shopping online. Some how, I felt the need to humanize myself again, replenish my soul, apologize for what I'd done. I didn't want to close my eyes--for I feared what dreams may come.

Blogger Note: I apologize for my lack of posts lately. Frankly, I didn't know how I was going to write this story. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Currently safe in Bangkok, Thailand.


Vera said...

I felt your dilemma once more, Ron. To do as good a job as you can at the same time as keeping in touch with your humanity is an awesome task. Just to say that you are doing the best you can. Whatever photos you did manage to shoot will still stand as a record of that place in that time, and helps people like me keep in touch with the rest of the world.

And just in case you don't get to have a look at my response to the words you wrote at the end of my recent blog, here they are again. I think it is important that you read them: Thanks for visiting and your best wishes in regards the book. It is about how I got to become a psychic when I never thought I would and how I grew as a person along the way. And I am thinking that perhaps a book is somewhere in your future to. When you have time. When you have the mental space. Writing about how I became skilled at what I do and what my life was doing as I did so was a very cathartic experience for me. And I am thinking that this would be the same for you. Writing about your life sort of tidies up all those memories and puts them into order so one can sense of why things happened when they did. And the realisation came to me that nothing is random. That there seems to be a greater plan in one's life if one takes up the opportunities which come along. Blessings to you, Ron. You have a purpose and you are living that purpose but the mainstream of that purpose is still to come. Again, blessings and much love.

Deboshree said...

What a life.
Don't be ashamed,Ron. What matters is that you realised what you were doing which is more than any other person in your position would. Deep down, through all the turmoil,devastation and destruction, you haven't forgotten th kind of person you want to be. You haven't forgotten how to be human and feel so much.
I'm proud of you Ron. What you did required tremendous courage and insight.

Lots of love

P.S- Please find some time to buy yourself a cake. Happy Birthday, dear friend.

The Rambler said...

Oh Ron.

Your words always touch my soul. Being a mother, anything with children rock me to my core. I picture my child always. I sit there and thank my blessings every day that my child is safe. I cry a little inside to think any child might not have this feeling of safety. No child should have to endure anything but that and love.

But such is life. A cruel reminder that life is not all roses and butterflys.

If only.

Thank you for such a heartfelt post. And for being a human being and walking away in respect for the lifes of those precious children that were lost to their mothers, fathers, grandparents....

Always hoping for your well being while on your travels.

Dan Denardo said...

A very heavy message, Ron. I understand how it weighs on your soul. So many people let themselves be oblivious to what happens a world away. Thanks for helping us remember...

Manju said...

Oh Ron, that is so terribly sad D:
i feel for you, it must be so hard, i can't even imagine how it felt to be there and see all that. what matters is that through the pictures you took you were able to tell others what's been happening on the earthquake site, and that hopefully prompted more aid for the people there

Jay said...

Oh my, the tears.

Thanks for the reminder of how lucky and so very fortunate we are, especially now.

This was a great post, I am not sure that I will ever forget it.

And I don't watch the news for that very reason. There's nothing glamorous about death, destruction, or poverty...anywhere.

Wander to the Wayside said...

Once again, you've stunned me with your words, with how they paint a picture of your world in juxtoposition with the world you are literally taking photos of. It's a true gift.

I'm curious, Ron. Maybe you've posted about this somewhere else and I wasn't on board yet. Do the photos you take belong to the people you're taking them for? In other words, are you not allowed to put the photos you take for them here on your blog, like the ones you've just mentioned? If that's the case, how would we ever get to see them ... is there somewhere we can go or a magazine we can buy to see them?

VENNILLA said...

Hi Friend.. This is Vennilla here..u r doing an excellent work.. Can we exchange links..

Tri said...

BTW...happy birthday.

chemist said...


Hope you will have time soon to post a few of the photos you captured in China of the earthquake damage.

Traveling Chemist

TheChicGeek said...

Such a difficult task you have, Ron. Your words so often move me to tears. I don't think anything could be worse than losing a child and to be right in the spot it happened...what can I even say. There are no words to express that pain, are there.
So happy that you are safe. I'm sending love and hugs and many blessings your way :)

Jenina said...

hi there, I was just passing thru blogs n came upon didnt take me a minute to start following it!! Your photography is what I dream of doing myself one just a beginner...

Anyway, enjoy yr christmas back home, I will look into your posts to learn more about you!!