Photographers' Blog

Would you stand on this ridge? Gabrielle Giffords did

By Denis Balibouse

Would you stand on this ridge?

(Excuse the uneven horizon, it is due to my legs shaking when I took the picture)

A few weeks ago I received an invitation for two conferences from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva from the six astronauts who flew the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last mission in May 2011, which delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. According to CERN’s website this is “an experiment to search in space for dark matter, missing matter and antimatter on the international space station.”

Sometimes the hardest part of a job is to find the news hook, so for this invitation I turned to my journalist colleagues in Geneva. Tom Miles, our Chief Correspondent in Geneva helpfully pointed out that the mission commander was Mark Kelly and that his wife, former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an attempted assassination in Tucson, Arizona on 8 January 2011, was coming along.

So, I had an angle but the two conferences at the University of Geneva and at CERN would not provide much in the way of photo-worthy opportunities. A few days later I received a third invitation from CERN, this time to Chamonix (France), with a mention of outdoor activities. Chamonix, a well-known Mecca for mountaineering has many peaks over 4000m (13123 feet), the highest being Mt Blanc at 4810m (15780 feet). I could feel the fresh air and almost picture the story.

The communication department at CERN informed me that three astronauts and family members, plus CERN staff would walk from Aiguille du Midi to the Refuge des Cosmiques to unveil a plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of cosmic rays by Victor Hess in 1912, as this spot was used for the first research. And they told me that Ms Giffords, who had suffered severe injuries during the shooting in Arizona, would attempt to walk a few meters on the ridge of the Aiguille du Midi, one of the mountains in the Mt Blanc massif.

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.

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.