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01/19/2010

The first night



After a freezing cold shower in the dark...the best shower I ever felt.
After a warm Pepsi, the best damn Pepsi I ever tasted. After 2 pieces of stale
bread wrapped around some mysterious lunch meat...the best damn sandwich I ever
ate...it was time to curl up on my nice, comfy couch in a room about 103
degrees & infested with mosquitoes. Man I love this job!!! At least it
wasn't a van...plus it had running water... 50 feet outside the gate guarded by
armed men were thousands upon thousands of people who would have killed for my
accommodations.

The hotel is right outside the presidential palace. In the huge park
surrounding the palace is a 'tent city'. From the roof of the hotel, it's a sea
of colors peppering the ground with little streams of smoke drifting from
between the make shift homes. The crowds seem beaten down...face after face of
loss, hopelessness, & suffering. There is a low, steady noise of families
preparing dinner, relatives nursing their wounds, children fighting fatigue.
Late the first night, while asleep on my couch, there was a pretty big tremor.
The whole room shook violently while all the journalists in the hotel ran into
the courtyard. For that brief moment, I had forgotten the people sleeping right
outside the compound. The noise coming over the security wall was a reminder of
how these people had lived through one of the worst events ever. The screams
told the story not of the current tremor but of the collapse of city hours
earlier. The fear woven in that collective cry was more telling than the most
dramatic picture or the most descriptive sentence.
Daylight came...we prepped our gear, talked about what we expected to see,
& thought about how we would tell the story. The sun was harsh...not on our
skin but to our eyes.

My job is easy in this situation. Every picture is more powerful than the next.
The hardest part is deciding what NOT to shoot...realizing the limitations
television time sets, the scarce time on the satellites, the deadlines we need
to meet. I could spend hours with each street, each face, each element of the
story. The photographer in me wanted to show the devastation, in its entirety,
with each shot. The lack of power, satellite uplinks, & basic provisions
made all of the television stations on the ground be very selective about
showing the world the best shots, the most powerful pictures. We were all
rushing any available media uplink...begging them to give out 5, 10, & the
precious 15 minute window on the satellites to bring the stories to you. All
this without the things everyone takes for granted...things like cell phones,
gasoline, electricity. All the while, taking pictures of people without their
basic needs. Things we all take for granted...things like water, food, medical
care.

Neighborhood after neighborhood, street after street, house after house all
filled with exhausted hands & desperate faces digging through piles of
debris. The layers of cement calling out to loved ones' for help buried deep
within the rubble. Even after seeing it, I could never imagine the feeling of
futility hearing your aunt, father or friend's desperate voice rising from an
unmovable rock knowing your bare hands can't help them. It's amazing that such
quick event, something that lasted less than 5 minutes, can take so long to
claim its last victim. The entire time, forcing 'hope' into loved ones testing
their resolve. I've seen a lot of things in this world...much of it has
desensitized me to human misery.

Working to get the shot temporarily steals the emotion of the moment. Thinking
about how to get the right angle, figuring out the most effective sequence
(wide, medium, tight) physically not killing my clumsy self all take the
emotion away from the event in front of me.

People were bringing their dead to the cemeteries. Bodies in wooden carts,
bodies in pick up trucks, bodies in sheets...bodies taken to the one place a
distraught family with only the clothes on their backs can associate with
death, a grave yard.

 

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

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