Actress Jessica Biel arrives for the premiere of “Easy Virtue” in Leicester Square, London October 28, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN)
I’ve spent the past month embedded with the German armed forces Bundeswehr – operating as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan – accompanying troops during missions from their bases in Masar-e-Sharif, Feyzabad and Kunduz. This is the first time the German army have allowed news agency photographers to be embedded with operational units, in the way the U.S. have allowed journalists similar access for many years. To be close to the units operating on the ground is the only way to report on their day-to-day work.
Recently, I went to the Chinese border-town of Dandong on the Yalu River to see what I could photograph to match stories about reports that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was sick. Dandong is one of the closest towns on the border to the secretive country, and was the obvious choice due mainly to the chances of a journalist entering the highly restricted and reclusive country at such short notice being practically impossible. They don’t accept journalists at the best of times, let alone when their ‘dear leader’, as he is officially known, is not well. Kim has led communist North Korea for 14 years and if he was dead, the potentially nuclear-capable country could quickly become a scary and somewhat horrifying scenario.My hope for the assignment was that maybe I could get pictures of North Korean soldiers on border patrols, or perhaps even people working in the fields – something that showed life on the ‘other side’.
In misty light I arrived at Chongqing Airport with my TV colleague Royston. We drove straight toward Dujiangyan, with rain spitting gloomily and the air damply hazing my breath. The city seemed as though the Big Bang had just happened, everything had stopped. The crying and sirens all around made me dizzy and I cannot really remember how I arrived at the ruins of what had once been a school, with its 900 pupils buried in the rubble. A rescue team was desperately looking for anybody still alive, while I stood on the mountain of dust and the dead, shooting pictures. The sound of the shutter seemed to me to be like death itself scratching away.
It happened and it just happened, quietly but tangibly … it only lasted 5 seconds…
May 12, 2008, 2:28 pm on the button, I was stooping to pick up a gift before rushing off to visit a client with two colleagues. The sudden dizzy feeling made me mentally rebuke myself for skipping breakfast and lunch; in those 5 seconds, I swore to myself never to do it again if I had to attend a formal meeting. But of course, my expressions remained calm.
“It’s an earthquake“, a sharp yet clear voice from the corner of the office broke this temporary silence which instinctively ignited my relief of being faint. “Hey buddy, maybe you are not so bad”, I said to myself.
So, that is how it started … on a normal working day, it just happened.
No worries, we had already had contingency plans…
Photographers immediately rushed to the airport, we skipped the client visit and began to tackle the breaking story. From that moment, for the first time ever, the Beijing Pix Desk began running 24/7 with three editors: Grace Liang, Reinhard Krause and myself.
The first pictures of white collars wandering downstairs after escaping from a shaking Beijing office building hit the wire 10 minutes after the quake struck while we continued moving pix from around China showing general damage like burst water pipes and cracked walls.
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.
May 12, 2:28 pm, almost all my Reuters Beijing colleagues saw the office TV sets shaking. Those TV sets had often shown the news but it was the first time they themselves had been the news. Within a few seconds, we realized it was an earthquake. An 8.0 magnitude earthquake had hit Sichuan province. Sichuan! My home. About ten minutes later, I was driving my car to Beijing airport. At that moment, I did not even know that there was a place on this earth called Wenchuan. Where was I going? What time could I leave? Fortunately, I was the first Reuters journalist to arrive at the airport and unfortunately I was the last to leave as I chose to fly to Chengdu and its airport was closed. I had almost no idea how serious the situation there was but wisely as it turned out took two instant DC/AC power inverters which meant I could work normally in the firs few days when the whole area was completely out of power.
The 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes horse race was held in Baltimore this past weekend. It is one of the most prestigious events in the American horse racing calendar, the second race in the annual three race series beginning with the Kentucky Derby and ending with the Belmont Stakes in New York. Once again the Reuters pictures team (Jim Young, Molly Riley, Jonathan Ernst, Tim Shaffer and I ), were armed with spools of electrical wire, switches and cases of extra cameras and lenses as we arrived from Washington 10 hours ahead of the 6pm race to set up our ‘remotes’.
The images of the earthquake relief effort in China have been horrifying and deeply moving and remind me what has always been so compelling about my job - the ease and speed with which still pictures can impart so much readily understood information to so many people.