Photographers' Blog

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 31 October 2010

In terms of the Ring of Fire, Indonesia had just been too quiet. Warnings that Mount Merapi, which towers above the outskirts of Yogyakarta city on Java island, was about to erupt, were heeded by some and ignored by many. On Monday, a 7.5 magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that hit the remote western Mentawai islands killing at least 343.  A day later, Mount Merapi erupted, killing at least 34.  It took almost three days for Jakarta based photographer Crack Palinggi to reach the scene of the devastation caused by the tsunami. Beawiharta was quicker to scene of the volcano; needless to say it's always worth standing well back when people are evacuating from an erupting volcano.  Bea's picture screams panic, heat and noise of those fleeing as hot ash falls to earth, the drama amplified by the flash blur technique used.  It is in complete contrast to the picture taken a day later of sombre near silence as rescue workers crunch through the muffled ashen landscape like newly fallen snow.

INDONESIA-VOLCANO/

 A woman covers her baby as she runs from ash falling from an erupting volcano at Kaliurang village in Sleman, near Indonesia's ancient city of Yogyakarta, October 26, 2010. Mount Merapi erupted on Tuesday, prompting terrified villagers to flee and join the thousands already evacuated from its slopes, witnesses said.  REUTERS/Beawiharta

INDONESIA-VOLCANO/

Volunteers carry the bodies of those who died after Mount Merapi erupted, at Kinarrejo village in Sleman, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, October 27, 2010. One of Indonesia's most dangerous volcanoes has killed at least 15 people since it began erupting, forcing thousands to flee mountain villages and blanketing nearby villages and towns in ash, witnesses said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Beawiharta

As well as these two powerful images, more pictures are needed to tell the whole story. We want to see the volcano erupting and the great plume of smoke, we want to see how it affects people with their day to day life; the ash covered glass and noodle bowl perfectly illustrate this. Last of all we want to be there, safe in our car as we drive through the chaos. Dwi's picture shot through the rear screen of the car he is travelling in a sheer touch of genius when it comes to visual story telling.

INDONESIA-VOLCANO/

Mount Merapi spews smoke as seen from Sidorejo village, in Klaten, Central Java October 29, 2010. Indonesia's Mount Merapi erupted on Thursday for the second time in a week, blasting vast plumes of ash into the sky, as the death toll from the initial eruption and a tsunami that hit remote western islands reached 377. REUTERS/Andry Prasetyo

Choking back the horror

Five years have passed and I still find it hard to talk about the tsunami. When the subject comes up my throat still constricts, choking back the horror and raw pain that I saw and more shockingly, the way the rest of the world seemed to carry-on with daily life. Relief came – sometimes too much of it, but nothing prepares a photographer for the shock of returning to normality from a disaster zone.

I was in Phuket the day before Christmas, dodging the bullet perhaps as my ground floor room would certainly have become my tomb. Back in Singapore the news broke and I flew to Sri Lanka, arriving at the center of the destruction 24 hours after the waves. My first stop was a hospital outside Galle. Hundreds of bodies lay on the damp concrete floor, children in fetal positions next to what rescuers assumed were their parents. Some of them had bandages and IV’s telling the story of the pathetic struggle to save them, others just looked like they were asleep, still in pajamas but slowly bloating.

QUAKE LANKA

Blood and bodily fluid and the stark stench of decomposition. I worked the scene like a vulture, the lenses my shield; my shock at the scene my helmet; technical adjustments on the cameras my distraction from the horror. I edited on the fly, transmitting a few images via satphone and moving onto more death. It is only that night as I look through my day’s take that the tears come, as the reality of what I saw hits me – there is no lens now. Only the hard truth in 2 megabyte files on a dusty laptop screen.

The 2004 tsunami: A Singapore perspective

“Where were you when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit?”

For me, it is a day I will always remember. I had barely been working as a picture sub-editor on the Asia Desk for a month. I remember being asked to come in early to work that Sunday morning because “an earthquake had hit and it seems quite bad”.

Reaching the office, I watched my television colleagues collect their gear, make phonecalls and fly off on the next flight to Aceh, one of the places reported as being badly hit. The newsgathering process was still very new to me, so I watched with fascination as photographers were alerted, flights were arranged and notes were made to keep track of where each shooter was.

QUAKE INDIA

A man reacts next to a building that was destroyed when a tsunami hit in Cuddalore, 180 km (112 miles) south of the southern Indian city of Madras December 27, 2004.  REUTERS/Arko Datta

Reliving the tsunami

Today I returned to Aceh, determined to take pictures of the same locations my team and I had photographed five years ago, when the capital Banda Aceh was completely devastated by a tsunami. At the time, I was with two Reuters journalists from the Jakarta bureau.

We landed at Aceh’s Sultan Iskandar Muda airport on December 27, 2004 – one day after the giant waves paralyzed the city, previously unaware of what a tsunami could do to a city. Information from Banda Aceh in the first few days after the disaster was very limited. It dawned on us later that the lack of news from Banda Aceh was because all of the communication facilities had been damaged.

The airport was oddly quiet. A few wounded victims were waiting for flights to take them out of Aceh. The car park was empty and we couldn’t find cars or taxis. We spotted an ambulance parked outside, so we asked the driver to take us to the city.