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.”

A necessary evil – the kangaroo cull

Canberra, Australia

By David Gray

I met Steven O’Donnell at his house in the outer suburbs of Canberra just before dusk. He had agreed to take me on what can be described as one of Australia’s most unpopular and controversial activities – kangaroo shooting.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: A NIGHT ON THE KANGAROO CULL

By day Steve is a professional plumber, but by night he is a government-licensed kangaroo shooter whose job is to annually cull the kangaroo population, which is estimated at over 50 million. When we met Steve was quick to explain why the thousands of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, known locally as “roos” in the Australian Capital Territory, had to be culled. Mobs of kangaroos can quickly damage the environment and compete with livestock for scarce food, impacting the livelihood of farmers.

But Steve’s main argument that stood out most in my mind was this: “After Europeans settled in Australia some 220 years ago, they chopped down millions of trees, and created much more grassland which the kangaroos have thrived on. As a result, their numbers have increased dramatically, and so in order to keep the natural balance for the environment to be sustainable (especially during a drought), their numbers have to be reduced. So actually, it’s our fault.”

The turkey shoot

Vancouver, Canada

By Andy Clark

It was a cold, damp autumn day, as I remember it, sitting in a cinder block bunker terrified I was going to loose my hand as I loaded black clay disks into the machine in front of me. Seconds later I would hear a muffled voice shout, and the machine’s springs and mechanism would suddenly and violently let go, flinging the disk out of the bunker followed by another muffled boom, boom. I would then quickly lean down, take another disk from the box and gingerly place it in the machine. It was at this point my fear would take over, worried one of the distant voices would shout too soon and thus catch and propel my severed hand out of the bunker instead of the disk. Of course this never happened and once I got the rhythm, my fear slowly subsided, well sort of.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: SHOOTING CANADA

I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I was helping out at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at the local Trap Shooting Club just outside Ancaster, Ontario. Each year the contest was held on the weekend before the holiday as a dozen or so members, including my dad, all vied to hit the most clay pigeons and go home with a freshly cleaned turkey donated by a local farmer. Though my dad and grandfather had versed me well in the handling of guns by that age I was still too young to take part so was therefore drafted to load the machine.

That was a long time ago now, but something I thought about as I made my way to the Vancouver Gun Club in Richmond, British Columbia recently. This was the first of two visits to gun ranges I had organized as part of Reuters pictures series on guns. The Vancouver Gun Club dates back to 1924 and is nestled amongst farmland on 39 acres of open and wooded property. The outdoor range is shotgun only and offers trap, skeet and Olympic trap shooting. It also has sporting clays plus another type of shotgun sport shooting called Five Stand. The club has an annual membership of about 400 but also offers day passes to non-members.

Witness to the Lonmin shootings

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Siphiwe Sibeko

When people ask if I enjoy my job, I usually tell them: “Who wouldn’t – I always have a different view from my mobile office each day”.

But the view I had on August 16 of the deadliest South African police security operation since apartheid ended will be difficult, if not impossible, to erase from my mind.

SLIDESHOW: SOUTH AFRICA’S “HILL OF HORROR”

I’d been sent to cover a tense stand-off between police and striking platinum miners at a dusty mine northwest of Johannesburg. Little did I know that I would witness a police operation that led to 34 miners shot dead and more than 70 injured.

Facing tragedy in Colorado

By Shannon Stapleton

I woke on the morning of July 20th happy and looking forward to a great weekend with my son at his last lacrosse tournament of the season.

That feeling of happiness changed quickly when I looked on the phone and it said “Can you get on a plane to Denver as soon as possible, there has been a mass shooting at the screening of Batman with 12 people dead and numerous injured.” My heart started to race and all I could think of was how just five months prior I had responded to the senseless killing of three high school students in Chardon, Ohio. A place close to my heart because it was near where I grew up and had played my last high school football in 1987.

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have also been a place of very fond memories in my life. I spent the years of 1991 to 1995 there and never forgot the majestic feeling of the mountain lifestyle. I just couldn’t believe this was happening again and especially in the Denver area where I cherished the years spent in the region.

Remembering where I came from

By Shannon Stapleton

Throughout my career I have covered my share of despair caused by senseless killings, war and natural disasters in other countries and within the United States. You become kind of jaded and realize that when you get the call to go cover one of these assignments that you are going in as a journalist and your job is to cover the reality of the situation no matter how bad it is. Little did I know that I would someday be covering such tragedy in a place around 25 miles from where I grew up.

I received the call on Tuesday to get on a plane to Chardon, Ohio, a blue collar town of 5,000 outside of Cleveland a day after the senseless shooting of five high school students, that ended with three dead by the end of the week. I boarded a plane as soon as possible and arrived in Akron, Ohio around 5:00 pm where I drove for an hour to make a candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the shootings at St. Mary’s church in Chardon, Ohio.

When I arrived at the church there were thousands of people that had gathered inside and outside dressed in red to honor the victims. I got quickly to work and was amazed at the outpouring of support from throughout the community and the other schools nearby. Kids had their school name jackets on from around the area and everyone had candles listening to the church service outside in the cold. When it was over people hugged and cried and walked hand and hand back to their vehicles. Walking back to my car was when it really hit me. I hadn’t been back to Chardon in 25 years when I played one of my last high school football games on a field that had now been replaced by a newer one with Astroturf.

Reflections from Tucson

By Laura Segall

January 8, 2011, I was working at home in the Phoenix area, editing photos as my 5 week-old son played on his floor mat beside me, when I heard on the radio that a gunman had gone on a rampage in Tucson, killing a number of innocent people and shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head. As I photographed the aftermath of the tragic event on that day and during the days that followed, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fragility of life and how in the blink of an eye everything can change. It was hard to believe that something like that could happen. Maybe it was the emotions of being a new mother, but more than other events I have covered I personally felt the grief and shock of the community.

One year later I knew I wanted to be with Tucson as Congresswoman Giffords made a rare public appearance in her hometown. I could hear chanting of “Gabby, Gabby” from across the lawn even before I could see her. As she stepped on stage wearing a bright red scarf, with her husband Mark Kelly by her side, the crowd of thousands rose to their feet and cheered. I moved into position to try to capture the best angle I could as Congresswoman Giffords proudly lead her community in the Pledge of Allegiance. What stood out the most to me as I shot those photos was her huge smile that lit up the stage and everyone around her.

While I photographed the people who attended the event I saw tears and hugs and healing. People were proud to be from Tucson. The memorial vigil celebrated those who lost their lives as well as those still recovering. People snapped their glow sticks and held them high.

The way to the island of horror

It was a typical Friday afternoon in Berlin — traffic in the streets and people looking forward to their weekend. A few hours earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had finished her traditional summer press conference in the capital city, where she answered with quite a lot of humor and unusual looseness, journalist’s questions about the Greek crisis and the EU summit in Brussels before she left for summer vacation. I was at home and not aware of the latest news when I got a phone call from the Berlin office: “It’s an emergency. There was a bomb explosion in Oslo. Can you book a flight to Oslo and immediately fly there?” At first I did not know what exactly had happened. My wife searched for information online and the first breaking news images from Oslo had flooded the media. People were wandering amid the rubble in the governmental area of the Norwegian capital.


REUTERS/Berit Roald/Scanpix


REUTERS/Morten Holm/Scanpix


REUTERS/Per Thrana

I booked the next flight from Berlin to Oslo. I had just two and a half hours until departure. I quickly packed my equipment, took a 500 mm telephoto lens and a few days worth of personal belongings. At the airport check-in I met other journalists — a mix of foreign colleagues and the Reuters cameraman with whom I would fly to Oslo. The plane was packed, every seat occupied, mainly with journalists. This was one of the fastest routes to Norway after the bombing. There was free internet onboard so I was able to check the latest news non-stop. There was now concrete news trickling in about a shooting on Utoeya island, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Oslo, with a number of people reported dead.


REUTERS/Jan Bjerkeli


REUTERS/Morten Edvardsen/Scanpix


REUTERS/Morten Edvardsen/Scanpix

When the plane landed in Oslo at 22:30 it was still light out and given the situation and the information about the shooting on the island Utoeya, I decided to go there immediately. I rented a car at the airport and drove off, with the help of my GPS navigation. Meanwhile I had contacted the Reuters text correspondent and our local photographer who had made one of the first pictures for us from the island. I told him that I would drive to Sundvollen, which is the closest village to the island. There was a hotel where all the survivors and their relatives were being taken. It was raining when I reached the hotel after midnight. I parked and walked into the hotel. There were rescue workers and survivors everywhere and parents who had managed to reunite their children who survived the shooting. When I asked at reception for a room for the night, I realized I was standing in a group of survivors. To stay there — or even to photograph it — was quite impossible. People were crying and hugging each other. There were reports that a considerable number of people had been killed during the shooting on Utoeya island and that there was a connection with the bombing in Oslo. It was after leaving the hotel that I took the first photos of survivors, from outside the police cordon.

The most painful story

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Thursday, April 7, a gunman entered under a false pretext the Tasso da Silveira school in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, carrying two pistols and dozens of rounds of ammunition. An alumnus himself of the same school where he had a history of being bullied and mental illness, he lined children up facing the wall and shot two dozen of them, before turning the gun on himself. Twelve students were dead, and others are still agonizing in the hospital.

This is the most painful type of story for most photographers, when a senseless tragedy involves children. The two Reuters photographers who covered the shooting and subsequent funerals speak here of their experiences, and how they coped professionally and personally.

Sergio Moraes, 49, father of two, writes:

I woke up on April 7, the morning a gunman attacked students at Tasso da Silveira middle school, with a slight headache only hours after celebrating my son’s 18th birthday. A journalist from the newsroom called early to tell me that a man had entered a school in a Rio suburb and injured a few people. It sounded serious but since there were no apparent fatalities I called my colleague Ricardo, who was closer, and asked him to go to the school. It was only when I began to monitor my news sources that I realized we had a huge story on our hands, and I raced to Realengo, the middle class neighborhood where the school was. I called Ricardo and assigned him to the hospital as I arrived at the school.

An outsider’s view inside Tucson

People and law enforcement personnel stand at a parking lot where U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot along with others at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona January 8, 2011.  REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Arriving at the scene of the Tucson shooting, I really didn’t know what to expect. There is always a nervous energy driven by adrenalin. You know you have to be there. You know it’s going to be bad, but you know you have to be there. Someone has to tell the story. Someone has to show it to the rest of the world.

The first couple of days were spent in shock. The whole community was in shock. How could this happen here? Details that will later emerge are largely hidden at this point. The why and the how – that’s for later stories. Right now, the pressing issue is to document this. Right now is the time to photograph what the community and its people are going through. No time to think, no time to react, I need to do my job and show this for what it is right now. It’s still chaos. You try to make order from the chaos. Later the images will have context. Later you can place them into a framework, but for the moment it’s all reaction. Cover that one piece, then move on. Those fragments will all make sense later on, but for now just keep moving.

Mourners take part in a prayer vigil in response to Saturday's shooting of U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) among others at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona January 9, 2011.   REUTERS/Eric Thayer

I’m an outsider, but the community has embraced their responsibility in the wake of the tragedy. There was a reaction, and then they came together. The people had opened themselves up. They let me in and let me photograph them during a horrible time in their city’s history. I didn’t experience any negativity in covering anything related to the shooting. In fact, the only time I felt unwanted was when I photographed the gun show. They did not want me there. They did not want photos made.

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