Photographers' Blog

Emotional toll of covering Mexico’s dead

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Jorge Luis Plata

I’ve been a photojournalist for the last 11 years. As a photographer from the Mexican provinces and working for a local newspaper, we do it all. We cover everything from political events to fashion, natural disasters, gun battles between police and narcos, executions to commercial ads.

Since 2006 I have increasingly been covering the dead; the players and the victims of the drug war. Sometimes one is not aware how badly this can affect you emotionally.

There was a moment when I realized I couldn’t sleep very well. Although I was tired I just couldn’t sleep. I remembered that as a small boy my grandmother would take me to visit these women who perform “limpias” (spiritual cleansings) to banish the bad spirits or the “malas vibras” (bad vibes) that had taken over a person’s body and mind.

It was time to pay Soco a visit, I trust her more than any doctor. When she saw my face she said determinately that I needed at least three cleansing sessions. She said that I looked stressed and very scared. I told her that I wasn’t scared but she insisted that I was.

“You are scared because of all the death you have seen. You are filled with the brutal endings of all these people you have photographed. These people can’t find eternal peace because someone else took their lives violently and their spirits have nowhere else to go but with someone else and they have gone with you.”

Revisiting the ghosts of Aceh

By Beawiharta

I remember well the 2004 tsunami in Aceh. I stayed for more than six weeks in Banda Aceh and then flew back to Jakarta to recover. In Jakarta, I cried everywhere when nobody was around me; at the office, at home, on the street, I was always crying. The situation was embarrassing, but I couldn’t stop the tears. They were automatic.

My brain couldn’t run from the images that I took of the tsunami aftermath. The counselor told me that I must go back to Aceh to take different pictures; positive pictures. Like people building their houses or shop stalls, children going back to school or singing songs happily.

Last week, I flew back to Aceh to cover the 8.6 magnitude earthquake. When I heard confirmation that there was no resulting tsunami, I was happy because I would not be taking pictures of sadness again here, in Aceh.

The Devil on the loose in Haiti

The incessant drone of the motorcycle under me becomes distant as my mind creates images from the words of an elderly woman in the camp I just visited. “The Devil is on the loose in Haiti. He turns into a dog, a pig or a hen, to move unnoticed in the camps and devour life. Last night he appeared as a dog and took the life of a child.” In the camp everyone knows and speaks of the death, and the strange disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Every form that I have ever imagined devilish beings to take are banished from my mind when this Devil appears. He has become a 7-day diarrhea that “devoured” the life of the child. Is it easier to explain death in the hands of a demon instead of looking around and thinking that it might have been the lack of water, hygiene and food that snatched the life?

A Haitian man takes a bath on a destroyed street at Port-au-Prince February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The destitution of the Haitian people hits me everywhere I turn. In none of the camps I visited is there a face that doesn’t show the mark of poverty. “The city looks like it was bombed,” says the security expert who accompanies me daily. There is no building, house or street that doesn’t show the effects of nature’s strength. They really were bombed – bombarded by political violence, illiteracy, unemployment, AIDS and extreme poverty. The quake did nothing more than expose to the world the indigence of an entire nation.