Photo Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert
A very good friend of mine phoned me the other day after viewing some disturbing images from Haiti. Her voice trembled in horror--and after describing to me in detail the images of dead bodies and crying children, she asked me a question that reverberated deep in my mind: As a photographer, how would you have covered the Haiti disaster?
Below is a blog post that I hope will not just answer her question, but also give everyone a better understanding of what it's like to cover such events. The following are from my personal experiences covering Afghanistan, post-tsunami in South East Asia, and the recent earthquakes in Sichuan province, China.
Capturing All That Is True:
I close my eyes, pretend to sleep. Maybe I am sleeping. Truth is, when you're in a hostile zone, it's hard to tell. Coiled in a dirty sheet, sweat-soaked, my hair matted with the day's dust, and grains of sand in my mouth, I dream of work.
Sometimes, I'd see myself with the camera on my shoulder--hitting the ground running, locked and loaded. There's nothing like that feeling. As a photographer, you run towards what everyone else is running from--thinking some how that the camera on your shoulders will protect you, not really caring if it will or not. Scene after scene, the action moves through you like a funnel--and all you can do is capture as much as you can, as fast as you can. In my dreams, I just breathe, keep moving, breathe, keep my head low, breathe, keep moving, try to stay alive.
I wake gasping for breath, unsure where I am. Lately, that dream has been re-occurring--and after watching much of the media coverage from Haiti, I keep imagining myself there--alone and armed, capturing with my camera the chaos of looters and debris, dead bodies and orphaned children alike. It's a sick imagination, but when you view life through glass, the only thing that stands between you and your pride is the sheer fact that truth is in your eyes--and capturing it is the only salvation you have.
Images frame themselves, and after taking just a few, your soul is conditioned to accept all that is before you--no matter how it makes your heart wrench in horror. There are times when you'd question yourself, ask whether it's right or wrong, justice or injustice to capture the plight of human suffering--but there's no time to find answers--it's just you and your camera, the world around you, and sheer adrenaline pumping through your veins a thousand miles an hour.
But believe me, I'm not a war junkie. I don't seek adrenaline, nor do I find it rewarding to see pain thru my lens--and to be honest, for the photogs in Haiti right now, I doubt they do too. They're husbands and wives, fathers and mothers just like you--just like the many that are trapped and left to die in the rubbles of Port-au-Prince. They are there because they believe in truth-seeking, in the notion that the world needs to mourn with those who have lost lives and life themselves--which in the end, ultimately--they are there because the stories and images they send back causes us to react, to find that thread that links us all as humans, to find the humanity in all of us.
For those who work in my field, there are no right or wrong ways to cover such an ordeal. There are no text books that explain how and why. Censored or not, we capture what is true. Some photos will seem inhumane and cruel, while some will naturally inspire--but as all things are in life, there's always an injustice when finding balance with reality.
In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That "time and chance" happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity. Through our lens, we look into the eyes of another and see ourselves. And so as photographers, we lead the world in this humanitarian endeavor--simply by capturing all that is true.
Blogger Note: I'm currently working out logistics on when I will be dispatched to Haiti in the next few weeks. Please stay tuned.