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reporting live from tragedy

05/29/12 , , ,

i’ve always been intrigued by reporters/photographers sent to cover tragedies (war, natural disasters, poverty, etc.).  regardless of the devastation around them, they are sent to do a job and expected to do it well.  however, before they are employees of your favorite media outlet, they are humans.  even though the range of emotions that they might go through in those trying moments often isn’t the 1st, 2nd, or even 5th story told, it is still compelling in its own right.

photographer fredy builes provides us with some insight on that front in a blog post via reuters.  he happened to be in the area when a car bomb exploded recently in bogota, colombia and he details the experience with his words and photos taken on the spot:

It began as a normal summer day in cold Bogota, with bright sun lighting up the morning. I had just picked up one of my favorite lenses from a repair shop, and was carrying a camera and wide angle lens in a bag while heading for a local university which I have done photo assignments for. As I talked to Vicky, the head of the journalism school, all of a sudden a great explosion shook us. In her eyes I saw the same fear that I was feeling, as the deafening sound left us speechless. It was only instinct that carried me to the street.

I ran out of the university towards the place of the explosion like a bull being released into the ring. Ground zero was right on a nearby street in downtown Bogota, where attacks like this haven’t happened in a very long time. I walked through the strange atmosphere of shocked people, deafening noise and fear, to reach the epicenter. I was surrounded by terror, blood, screams, sobs, rumors of another bomb, and death exposed for all to see.

One woman tried to calm a man lying on the ground, as another appeared with blood on her face in a way that reminded me of Christ bleeding from the crown of thorns.

The body of an elderly man, the driver of the bus that was destroyed, was hanging from the bus window. With his head swaying like a pendulum almost touching the front tire, his blood and sweat dripping on the asphalt below, and his left hand hanging by just a thread of skin, he seemed dead, but he wasn’t.  Several men and women with their faces bathed in blood, stood frozen with shock, watching the minutes pass.

One elegantly dressed man with a bloodied face was surrounded by bodyguards with their 9 mm pistols drawn and ready. He was stupefied. I began to photograph him only to find out later that he was a former interior minister under the previous government, and that he was the target of the blast.

Police arrived and made it difficult for me to photograph. I was only documenting one act of the terrorism that is plaguing the globe. I evaded them as I photographed, trying to photograph a body lying amidst the destroyed vehicles. The police closed off the street as the woman kneeling next to the man asked them for help. Ambulances began to arrive and take away the injured, with everything happening very fast.

I used in seconds almost everything I had learned in my years as a photographer, and relived my experiences in the streets of Medellin covering the armed conflicts of the 1980’s and 90’s. Amidst the shock and daze, I pressed the shutter as the adrenaline flowed and kept me from breaking into tears.

My mobile phone rang, and my boss asked me, “Where are you?”

“I’m at the bomb site.”

He calmed me by saying that I should relax and keep photographing, and that he was on the way.

After seeing this collective fratricide by armed groups of unarmed and defenseless people, I was impressed by the struggle of the innocent victims to save themselves and others, in such an inhuman situation.


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