When I heard the news, I headed immediately to the scene; that’s what news photographers do.
I remembered a few days earlier I was reading a blog about Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton going towards the biggest crime scene of recent times; Ground Zero in New York. A silly smile filled my face as, of course, my scene was a grain of sand in the desert compared to what Shannon faced on 9/11.
The breaking news was that a man had locked himself inside a lawyer’s office with his daughter and with what appeared to be a bomb strapped to himself, in west Sydney. After parking only 3 blocks away, I picked up a Canon Mark IV with a 500mm lens as my main camera, my second set up as spare with a 70-200mm, two bags with wide lenses, flash, extra batteries and my laptop to file from the scene and then: I ran.
Arriving at the scene my first concern was that the main subject was behind a window. Usually when stories are related to windows it involves a long wait. Almost every photographer can certify that. From sportsmen to celebrities, politicians or criminals, if the media is pointing to a window, 90% of the times the story heads for a long wait.
Soon after pointing my 500mm lens at the window, the face of the subject appeared for a few seconds and I took ten pictures. In coordination with the Reuters pictures desk in Singapore my first frame hit the Reuters wire within 3 minutes.
What followed was sporadic appearances of the man at the window that he had smashed, officers walking the street, heavily armed men and negotiators going in and out of the building and the sun slowly going down, forcing us to change our camera settings for more waiting in the dark.
Early in the evening, a few cameramen and local photographers started to leave. Two more hours and most of the media had left as the chances to get a decent frame were one in a million. It was dark, we were more than 150 meters (yards) away, nothing seemed to be happening, the blackout curtains were closed and we were certain that if something happened the pictures would be blocked by some police or fire truck as Australia has strong protective laws for victims and alleged criminals.
I agreed with every single reason of each of my colleagues who left the scene but I decided to stay. Sadly, ‘bomb’ and ‘hostage’ are words that I am quite familiar with.
Suddenly, the blackout curtains went up. Some police entered the building with tools that made clear they would break into the room. A few minutes later a dramatic scene of a girl crying and screaming as she was taken into safety by the police happened right in front of me. Five minutes later her father was escorted out too. It was clear that the girl and her father were unhurt, a positive outcome from a dangerous situation without anything blocking the pictures; odd.
As I waited, I remembered how a few colleagues and some fellow photographers had waited for more than four months outside the residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima, Peru, back in 1997 when I was just starting out. Their experience was a huge lesson for me.
So, after all, 11 hours wait was another grain of sand in the desert.