Photographers' Blog

Witnessing the Nairobi mall massacre

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Nairobi, Kenya

By Goran Tomasevic

(Editor’s Note: Goran Tomasevic is a veteran war photographer, covering conflict for over 20 years in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As Reuters chief photographer for East Africa, Goran is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. This is his story of the attack on the Westgate shopping center on September 21, 2013.)

I was at home when I heard from a friend about something happening, but we weren’t sure what it was. I went to the Westgate mall and saw some bodies lying in the car park and realized it was serious. I saw some police so I hid behind the cars to take cover and slowly got closer to the gate.

An injured child was being pushed in a supermarket trolley. The woman said to me, “Please, take this child”. But the police jumped in and helped her. I took some pictures and then saw a couple of plainclothes and regular police. I asked when they would be moving and they said they were going to try and enter the shopping mall from the top. I went with them.

In the parking lot there were a lot of dead bodies and a lot of injured people with blood everywhere. There were people hiding and screaming and asking for help. I tried to help but I couldn’t do much because the ambulance was arriving and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do.

I saw this younger guy who was hit by shrapnel. His leg was broken, but he wasn’t bleeding that heavily. I didn’t want to move him and make it worse. If I started helping, I could do something wrong. I am not a doctor. I just tried to calm him down. I said, “The medics are coming. You will be alright. You are okay.”

20 years covering conflict: Goran Tomasevic

As in the ruins of Beirut, Sarajevo or Stalingrad, the conflict in Syria is a sniper’s war. Men stalk their fellow man down telescopic sights on suburban streets, hunting a glimpse of flesh, an eyeball peering from a crack, using decoys to draw their prey into giving themselves away.

During weeks spent tracking the fluid frontline of the battle, veteran war photographer Goran Tomasevic provided daily evidence of an escalating conflict that the UN estimates has killed 100,000 people. Tomasevic photographed with exceptional proximity as combatants mounted complex attacks, managed logistics, treated their wounded, buried their dead – and died before his eyes.

This special package has been sent to coincide with an exhibition of Goran’s award winning work at Visa Pour L’image, the premiere international photojournalism festival. This exhibition was curated by Ayperi Karabuda Ecer.

The day Saddam fell

By Goran Tomasevic

Why did I go to Iraq? Because it was a big story.

I was there in 2002 for the presidential referendum where Saddam was the only candidate.

I knew there would be a war. I’d begun my post in Jerusalem but I didn’t go there – instead I went to Iraq. As a Serbian national I didn’t need a visa to enter Iraq. I also had experience covering Kosovo and the Balkan war. I arrived at the end of January 2003, and spent three months there.

This was my first big conflict after covering the former Yugoslavia. For me, it was very important to prove myself on the international stage.

Deadly sniper shot through the lens

Ain Tarma neighbourhood, Damascus, Syria

By Goran Tomasevic

One moment, I heard two incoming shots. I was already aiming my camera on these two Syrian rebels. I heard the scream and saw one of them get shot. He was still alive as I was shooting but dying as he was carried away.

There was intensive fighting as the rebel group I was with in a Damascus neighborhood was trying to overtake a government checkpoint some 50 meters away. There was another group of rebels who were supposed to fire rocket propelled grenades from a further distance away from the checkpoint. After that, the group I was with was meant to engage the soldiers manning the checkpoint.

At the checkpoint I could clearly see sandbags and tanks. I didn’t look at the tanks anymore because I needed to take cover. I pulled back a little to look for the best position to take pictures and how to be covered in the best possible way.

My most miserable day

When asked about covering South Sudan and its journey to independence, a story that was largely reported as a positive event, photographer Goran Tomasevic had the following to say in a recent interview:

“Honestly, it was one of the most miserable days in my life. It was so disorganized.

The day before, there was still construction going on in the place where the Independence Day celebrations were to be held. Everyone had to queue for some press passes for maybe 3-4 hours but they gave press cards to NGOs and to everyone. Somehow, they managed to finish the construction but then totally screwed up with security in general. We didn’t know where to go. There were some stands up so we pushed here and there. They would kick us back and we would run around and they would pull us back again.

Libya, Goran and the photo that went around the world

Chief Photographer Steve Crisp tells how this picture from Goran Tomasevic appeared Monday on front pages across the world.

Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

“Goran, as ever, was up at first light and on the road heading south from Benghazi after the first night of western bombing. The Reuters multimedia team came upon a convoy of troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who had been attacked. Goran carefully took up a position near the smoldering vehicles when munitions exploded and so was able to capture a wide selection of dramatic and iconic pictures. This coverage was the climax to Goran’s outstanding front line reporting from the rebel advance, retreat and western intervention.

Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

His images scored an amazing number of online and newspaper front pages worldwide, with this defining moment published as widely as another historic Reuters war picture, a 2003 photograph of a U.S. soldier standing beside the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein – a picture also shot by Goran Tomasevic.”

So busy I didn’t even notice the lens was broken

Covering wars is the hardest, most dangerous and most exciting part of my job. This is not only shooting pictures, it is a way of life. To follow the story, make contacts and be respected by soldiers I am following is hard and complex job. Photographers who are doing the same job as me will understand my thoughts. Others may never have that privilege. Words can only explain. With pictures I am trying to show the reality. Nevertheless, I want to explain what happened behind some of my pictures I took during my recent time with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On March 21, I arrive at Kandahar Air Field (KAF). On my way out of the KAF flight terminal, I find my good friends U.S. Army Colonel Ed Kornish and Sergeant Major Andy Bolt waiting for me. Soon after, over coffee and cigarettes, Colonel Kornish says there is a mission planned in Zabul province and we’d better hurry.

Just a few hours later we are on our way in four Humvees. Around three in morning, we stop to take a rest in a small base near the village of Shajoy and at first light we move to join the Afghan National Police (ANP) at one of their bases nearby.

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