By Umit Bektas
As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.
No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.
It is now more than a month since I returned from my assignment as an embedded photographer with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now, as I write this blog I am looking at that picture. I want to talk about what a pair of blood-soaked boots means to me; as a human being and as a photographer.
For a month I reported with photos from a number of different assignments the American troops were engaged in. But I admit the days I spent with the 628th Forward Surgical Team were the most trying. It is not only the issue of seeking a meaning and an outcome in what I witnessed that still occupies my mind – it is a problem of the essence of the whole thing.
Let me explain what I mean by essence. The premises where three patients can simultaneously receive emergency treatment is in fact a tent. Unavoidably, it is cramped and the space left after three gurneys are placed side by side, is barely enough for the medical teams to squeeze in. If you are a photographer allowed to take pictures, obviously you cannot move an inch. Not because anyone has prohibited you, but to avoid hampering the medical staff, you take care not to change your position unless you absolutely need to. From where you stand you can clearly see what is happening but most of what you see cannot be photographed, cannot be transmitted if photographed and cannot be published if transmitted. It is bodies bloodied and mangled.