Photographers' Blog

The emotional toll of covering violence

The police scanner says there was a shooting in Zone 7, very close. We arrive right behind the firemen. Two men on a motorcycle had been shot with the same bullet. Neighbors start to gather as I make a few pictures of the rescue crew loading the victims into the ambulances and rushing off to Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City. The neighbors are angry and start taunting the police, accusing them of incompetence.


Out of the corner of my eye I see family members arriving. You can tell who they are by their faces. Their confusion and disbelief stands out even through the dozens of people scuttling around. They are not crying yet…They still don’t know exactly what is going on. Eight-year-old Erica Estrada, dressed in shades of pink and burgundy, follows her grandmother. She draws my attention. Her hands are in her pockets and her face is twisted, but her eyes are still dry. Her grandmother screams as she realizes that her grown son, Erica’s father, was wounded badly and her husband, who was sitting on the back of the motorcycle, wasn’t expected to live.


Erica is half everyone’s size. Dropping the camera from my eye, I lower it to my waist, to her level. She is surrounded by strangers who have formed groups around her and her grandmother and who in their own horror seem to completely forget the young girl. Erica finds my eyes and stares at me in pain.


Still shooting with the camera at my waist, I have nothing to hide behind. Erica covers her face and begins to cry. Her grandmother calls to her from somewhere inside a separate group of bystanders. As she removes her hands Erica’s stare locks onto me again. She’s pulled by the arm and rushed back to their car just as my partner finds me and pulls me back to his car. We are off to the hospital.

We are already there when Erica and her grandmother arrive. They have gone from crying to screaming and each moment a new relative shows up in another taxi. Once again Erica seems lost and alone among a sea of adults, all in their own pain. Poor girl. I look around for someone to help her, anyone. Someone to hold her and tell her she’ll be alright, that the pain will go away.

Shadows come to life on Mexico’s northern border

It’s 10 pm and there’s a cold wind blowing in the parking lot of a strip mall in Ciudad Juarez. This is our “base” of operations where two other photographers and I await news from a radio tuned to the police frequency. One of my colleagues reads a newspaper while the other describes to me his experiences covering the violence. His experiences are stories of terror.

Suddenly over the radio waves come the clear sounds of a “narcocorrido,” or Mexican folk music that glorifies the feats of drug bandits. One of the photographers jumps. “It’s going down,” he says. Baffled, I ask what he means. “The bandits interrupt the police frequency with that music as a signal that they’re about to deposit a package (victim’s remains).” It’s a sober warning and clear example of the power of narcos along much of Mexico’s northern border.

Forensic workers stand next to 11 of 16 slain bodies dumped in an abandoned lot in the border city of Tijuana September 29, 2008. Police found 16 bodies dumped in the seedy Mexican border city of Tijuana on Monday in what the state attorney general’s office said could be a revenge attack for the arrest of a local drug gang hit man. REUTERS/Stringer

Death all around

A Congolese refugee in a tattered baseball cap, worn clothes and blue flip-flops begged me for a cigarette at Kibati, a camp for 65,000 people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo.

I scolded him, saying smoking was bad for his health, as if anything could be worse for your health than living in this conflict-racked corner of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Machine gun fire erupted nearby and people dived for cover, ducking into rows of flimsy tents made from torn sheets of white plastic stretched over sticks.

Violence in South Africa: Audio slideshow

Reuters photographer Siphiwe Sibeko talks about his experiences capturing dramatic images of the outbreak of violence in South Africa.