epa photographer CJ Gunther tells the story of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 and the events following in the aftermath:
My assignment was another routine Patriot’s Day, covering the Boston Marathon. For the past 21 years, I’ve photographed all aspects of the prestigious race including the Start, the Men’s and Women’s elite runner packs, and the Finish Line from overhead. Since 2007, I’ve been part of the Finish Line tight pool, right there at ground level where the runners complete mile 26.2 just in front of me.
Since “Marathon Monday” is also the first day of my kids’ spring vacation, they asked if I’d make it home in time for the planned afternoon park activities. I assured them I would, since the Marathon was run like a fine-tuned machine with standard protocols and procedures that made it an annual event I enjoyed covering.
The meeting for the tight pool photographers began at 9:45 a.m. Tommy, the photo wrangler with the Boston Athletic Association, reviewed how the day would unfold, and took time to explain a few slight tweaks from the previous year. After the meeting, we took our positions and awaited the wheelchair athletes who cross the finish first, followed by the elite men’s and women’s runners. Once the winners regrouped, we then moved into position to capture the jubilation of the trophy and wreath presentation.
The last photo I shot showed both the men’s and women’s winners, arms outstretched in a pose together, smiling with joy. I then rushed to the filing center at the hotel in nearby Copley Square. I pushed my photos to the desk, checked to confirm receipt with the desk, packed my gear, and drove out of the city.
It was 1:45 p.m.
At 2:49 p.m., my routine day tumbled into chaos.
I had just met my wife and daughter at the park when a good friend from the Boston Fire Department called me. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yea, I’m finally over my late winter cold and feeling better,” I replied. “NO! Two bombs went off at the finish line! You need to get there now!” he shouted in his unmistakable Boston accent. For a moment I paused, only to think about the gear I needed, and the best driving route back into the city. I ran to the car, and without breaking stride told my wife I’d call her shortly, trying not to show panic in my face or voice.
The next 102 hours were unforgettable. As I rushed to the scene, driving way too fast, all that was routine about Marathon Day had changed. I had no idea what to expect when I returned to the spot where I had just photographed some of the most joyous moments of the day.
I parked as close as I could, ran three blocks with my gear, and made my way to within a block of the Finish Line. I ran through scores of people who were confused, fearful, and terrified – the complete opposite of the scene I had left 90 minute earlier. I photographed shocked family members, crying children and adults, exhausted and confused runners, and abandoned belongings. I made my way to the medical tent, normally reserved to treat routine post-marathon ailments. It had been quickly converted to a triage center, where bloodied victims were wheeled in, treated, and then brought out to waiting ambulances.
Our chief photographer, Matt Campbell, was traveling back from The Masters golf tournament. When I phoned him, he answered from his seat on the plane. “BOMBS?” he repeated loudly; I reminded him that he was on a plane so he wouldn’t cause any panic. We agreed to connect as soon as he landed in Boston.
The scene for blocks was chaotic. Emergency personnel were everywhere: police, firemen, bomb technicians, Special OPS, and National Guardsmen. I wondered where they all came from so quickly. A colleague took a photo of me being shoved from the street by a Boston Police officer as we tried to make our way to the scene. There were no rules; bombs just don’t go off in the United States. Again, it was complete chaos.
I had pictures to file, which was my main concern. I went to a nearby parking garage where I could still see some of the scene, but away from the police officers who were establishing a tightly-secured area. My phone wouldn’t connect because I was receiving calls from friends and family who had seen an earlier Facebook post of me with two colleagues at the Finish Line. They know the Marathon is one of my annual assignments, and they wanted to make sure I was all right. Finally I moved my first pictures from the tragic scene, then took a moment to post on Facebook: “I’m OK. Safe.” That simple message alleviated concern from friends and family, and freed my phone for the work ahead.
Somehow in the chaos, I was able pull together a pretty good team to expand our coverage. Freelancer Dominic Chavez was nearby, at the Boston Common. Matt Campbell arrived at the airport and came directly downtown to edit, even though he had been away from home for over a week. Staffer Justin Lane drove in from New York and former staff photographer Matthew Cavanaugh drove in from Western Massachusetts. I thought of how fortunate I am to work with such a talented crew of photographers. The whole area was locked down, so we covered the basics, which included news conference updates from local, state and federal authorities, and scene setters of the chaos that still had its hold on the city.
We documented a normally peaceful city that was thrown swiftly and brutally into shock, but not inaction. Boston Strong was born.
I spent the next two days covering reaction to the tragedy, especially once the names of the three people who lost their lives were released. The little boy who was killed, Martin Richard, hit close to home for me since he was just a few years older than my daughter, and a few years younger than my son.
In the days following, I was touched by the outpouring of support, caring and compassion shown throughout the city. I photographed many of the impromptu memorials that cropped up all over the city, including outside the homes of the grieving families.
On Thursday, a memorial service was held and attended by President Barack Obama. Although we were working on only two or three hours of sleep each night, we covered every angle. Concerned about our well-being, Matt scheduled us on shifts us so we could rest. We had no idea how long we would be covering this story, and each day had blended into the next.
Another freelancer, Dominic Reuter, stepped in and I headed home to my family, just hours before the next series of fateful events gripped the city.
I received a phone call from Dominic later in the evening on Thursday. He lives on the edge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus, and heard reports of a gunned-down MIT police officer. Dominic ran to the scene on campus, even though at the time, we didn’t know if the shooting of Officer Sean Collier was related to the Boston Marathon bombings. I edited his first photos, and then fell into bed, exhausted.
At 3:00 a.m., my wife woke to my phone buzzing. She immediately shook me awake. I was up, dressed, and answering the call in nearly one motion. Matt had been calling for almost two hours, needing me in Watertown, a neighboring city of Boston. There was a connection between the Boston Marathon bombings suspects and the shooting of Officer Collier, which had led to a shootout in Watertown between the suspect and local police. Just like four days earlier, I raced in my car to a scene well outside the norm of our usual Boston coverage.
I parked within a block of the shootout and joined a growing group of journalists covering the house-to-house search for the remaining suspect. This search continued the entire day while Watertown, Boston and several other local communities were on lockdown after Governor Deval Patrick issued a “stay in shelter” order.
Time moved slowly throughout the tense day, with occasional activity as law enforcement personnel moved from place to place. At 6:45 p.m. just before sunset, gunfire erupted and I made my way to a yard two blocks from the shots.
I stayed hidden in this yard along with four other photographers. We put our cameras on quiet mode so we wouldn’t be rousted by the police, who were only a meter or two away, separated from us only by a white picket fence. Through the fence in the growing darkness of early evening, we made images of the police at the ready; the robot used to pull the tarp off the boat that revealed suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; and the celebratory gestures by the special operations squads leaving the scene after Tsarnaev surrendered.
Finally, it was over. Boston Mayor Menino’s voice came over the police scanner, thanking everyone involved.
When I turned, my colleagues (who were also my competition), had left to file their photos. I stayed, however, because I knew there was one more shot I needed to make: the ambulance that had arrived only moments earlier which surely was called to carry away Tsarnaev.
There were so many strobes from the police vehicles flashing that it was hard to see. In the dark, it was tough to determine if the image was in focus. I kicked open the gate in the fence, and slowly squeezed off a number of frames as the ambulance turned away. I saw Tsarnaev through the window, his head bloodied. Now it was really over and I filed my final photos.
The events of that week resulted in the loss of life for four people, and forever changed the lives of many more who sustained life-altering injuries. Thankfully, horrific events such as these are not common in the United States, but we’re reminded too often of the unfortunate reality that innocent lives are lost and affected around the world every day. In fact, just yesterday [14 April 2014] in Nigeria more than 70 people were killed in a bomb blast at a bus station, while more than 125 others were injured.
I am thankful that this type of coverage is not the norm for me. This year, I hope we have another routine Marathon Day – or as routine as it can be the year following the tragic events that forever altered our city. Matt and Justin will return and freelancer Herb Swanson will join the coverage team. Security will be tight, and police presence will be at a high level, but the determination of the runners and the spectators to enjoy the day will Boston Strong.
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by Tanya Zenkovich
It started in July 2013 when I got to know that I’ll be a part of the epa team for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games 2014. It was to be my most serious assignment ever.
Sochi met me with palms and a very pleasant weather contrast: while in Minsk it was –18 Celsius, in Sochi it also felt like being 18 degrees, but now above zero. At the very beginning I couldn’t escape troubles though. A wrong accreditation pass was given to me at the airport. Anyway, I thought that standing in a line at the accreditation center to get a correct card, wasn’t the worst thing to happen.
The first challenging task for me was to cover the opening ceremony of the Games. I got a really awesome position at the stadium: it was very central and high to make good panoramic shots. After the necessary preparations (briefing, plugging a cable into the camera, sending test pictures, defining settings in the camera set, and, of course, learning the ceremony schedule by heart), I couldn’t wait for the ceremony to commence. There’s one peculiar thing about events in Sochi: when they start there’s no stopping. Therefore, to get a nice shot one has to stay focused, be creative, be prepared, do everything fast and predict what’s going to happen the next moment. Time is so fast here! So it’s very important also to have some snacks with you at your working place so as not to be out of energy, when the crucial moments come.
Curling Pictures and Pajamas
Most of the time I spent taking curling pictures. At first I hardly knew what it was about. Some colleagues told me this sport is boring and that it’s hard to come up with interesting angles for curling pictures; still others assured me that it’s really nuts, great and an expressive competition to cover (and some of these “optimists” even sent me Youtube lessons how to play curling). Besides, I always asked my new acquaintances among the photographers who worked in Sochi whether they had had a chance to shoot curling pictures before and (if yes) what their experience had been.
Indeed, curling turned out to be an exciting “playground” for experimenting! Multiple exposures, panning, slow shutter speed, zooming and twisting, game of shadows, different angles and an opportunity to move from one position to another during matches. My favorite team was from Norway. Because of the Norwegian team’s everyday-new funny uniform and curling slippers it seemed sometimes that the players wore trendy pajamas – a real stroke of luck for a photographer!
When I understood how a typical match develops and also found an effective algorithm of my actions for a match, life at the venue became much easier for me.
When the Games started I saw how many preparations the epa team had done in advance and how many people were involved in the process so that everything was running smoothly. I also realized that my work was only a small contribution to the huge working mechanism. And I’m pretty sure that what I could see is only the tip of the iceberg. So my task as a photographer was quite easy – just wait for a good moment and press the button.
It was a great experience for me to work with such a professional and cool team, to learn from them, and I’m very grateful to my colleagues whom I got to know there!
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By Karl Sexton
Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia – my first ‘big’ assignment as an editor with epa. I had had some prior experience in editing in the field, having worked at a European Council Summit in Brussels in 2013. Whilst that experience gave me an insight into what was expected of me in Sochi, the weeks I spent in Russia have taught me so much more about the job we do at epa.
After nearly four years at the desk in Frankfurt, I am familiar with handling a large volume and variety of images from all parts of the world, having to stay on top of the news, and responding to clients or member agency requests, as well as to breaking news stories. However, our shooters usually submit photographs that are pre-edited. Most of the time, the photos are technically ready to be transmitted to the wire, leaving the editor to focus on caption quality, picture selection, and making sure all the angles of a particular story are covered.
The role of an editor at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic games or other such events is very different. Here, photographers send their images often straight from the camera, only a matter of seconds after the event or incident they are covering has occurred.
The shooters can transmit hundreds of raw, unedited images in only a few short minutes, and it is up to the editors in the media centre to sort through the myriad of different angles from various photographers, choose the best pictures and begin the post-production work, such as balancing colour levels and cropping, as well as captioning the photos. All of this has to be done at speed, in order to deliver a high-quality product to our clients in the timeliest fashion possible. We watch television monitors with live feeds of the events we are covering to stay on top of the action, and we use online information services to keep track of details such as results, scores, and spellings of athletes names, to name but a few.
These aspects of truly participating in the production of the image and feeling real proximity to the action are some which I have found hugely interesting, not to mention satisfying. Seeing an image in play that you have edited from a raw file to a finished product is a real source of professional pride, even if it is the photographer who (deservedly!) takes most of the glory.
Having spent the best part of a month at these Games, I have also had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know the people whose work I have the privilege of editing back at the desk in Frankfurt. It has been a massive learning experience and fantastic opportunity to exchange views and ideas on the job or on life, and to hear stories from colleagues and friends from every corner of the globe.
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Ole Bratz, Head of IT at epa, takes us with him on a trip to Sochi. After you’ve seen the Olympics from all kinds of angles, this is a unique experience, you probably haven’t heard of yet.
The coverage of Olympic Games is challenging. The planning and preparations for the photo coverage of this major sports event started already 28 months ago, and included several visits to Sochi.
In addition to a dedicated team of professional photographers and editors, huge efforts have been made by administrative and IT teams for organizing transportation, accommodation and last but not least the technical set up. The real operation started when the freight consisting of several flight cases had been picked up in the first week of January to make its way to Sochi. That date marked the point of no return. Anything that’s missing, configured wrongly or not properly tested – too late. Luckily, the transport by truck from Frankfurt through several countries, borders and customs went well, and when epa’s IT colleagues Joerg Reuter and Helmut Emelius arrived in Sochi on January 17, all servers, computers, network equipment and several kilometers of network cable arrived in good shape and were taken into epa’s private office space in the Main Press Center. Now the advance party started organizing accommodation for the team, in this case it meant visiting construction sites, at least in the mountain area in Krasnaya Polyna, but conditions were not much better in the media accommodation at the coastal cluster in Sochi Adler. Quite on the contrary, they were terrible and only got better a few days before the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Joerg Reuter, who is heading epa’s IT operations at all major sports events, successfully met all major challenges for the benefit of the entire epa team.
One important lesson taught by the Russians: Everything is ready, no problem! (Regardless the facts)
In the week before Carsten Riedel and I arrived in Sochi, Joerg and Helmut had already set up the whole temporary editorial office with workstations, servers and network. And they cabled many photo positions in the Sochi Olympic Park such as the Iceberg Skating Place, the Adler Arena, the Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Shayba Arena, the Ice Cube Curling Center and the Medals Plaza.
6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable
The task was to connect every single of the 150 photo positions to the VLAN network which takes the photographers’ images with 100 Mbit/s speed from his or her camera to the editorial desk in the main Press Center. During the second week, after editors Gernot Hensel and Herbert Maier had also arrived, the mission headed towards accomplishment by pulling epa’s yellow network cables to all photo positions in the mountain cluster in the Laura Cross-Country Ski and the Biathlon Center, the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, the Russki Gorki Jumping Center, the Sanki Sliding Center and the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. This became the real challenge: In addition to the actual cabling of approximately 6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable, some in closed stadiums but mostly in the snow at downhill tracks, halfpipe, moguls, ski jump, biathlon and sliding, other obstacles like climbing or massive cable lengths of 100 meters came into play.
The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN
Luckily, the timing and scheduling with photo and venue managers and our fellow agencies went rather smoothly due to the fact that we had already established a very friendly relationship with them. Security regulations were the main time consuming issue. By the way, so was our IT security. The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN. Whenever we had to bring a vehicle with tools and technical equipment into an Olympic venue we were stopped at a vehicle checkpoint, although each technician had a special sticker showing a screwdriver on his accreditation pass, allowing him to carry tools, even knives. All passengers had to step out and walk through a separate mag and bag check, the car and its contents were diligently searched by police or military personnel. The Russians – smart as they are – had them all dressed in friendly looking purple Sochi 2014 uniforms. Then back in the car, after all windows, doors and hoods had been sealed with stickers, off to the next checkpoint where all seals were checked to make sure we did not open a window or anything. Those procedures felt like they took forever. When we finally reached the venue the only problems to overcome were iced cable paths, frozen pipes, snowbound network cabinets and everything else related to IT hardware and people having to cope with the snow and the cold.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games kick off
6 days before the Opening Ceremony, the main photo and editorial team from all over the world arrived. Now everything became really busy because as a technician you are the single point of contact for everyone. But these few days of gathering with our friends and lovely colleagues before the real show started were the most enjoyable. They were the magic and epic moments that make the european pressphoto agency family very special.
Before the official start of the games, last modifications in the picture workflow were done, lines checked, configurations tested, remote support from the colleagues at home installed and connectivity fine-tuned. Now we were ready for the show to begin…
The master mind behind all epa sports coverage is Gernot Hensel, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Head of the Sports Desk, editing wizard, all-round sports expert and well experienced leader of those operations. He is truly in his element when it’s show time and the going gets tough. The same can be said about all colleagues whether behind lenses or in front of computer screens, producing thousands of exciting images from the competitions, even special pictures by request for our partners and clients. Some colleagues standing in the cold next to an alpine track for a whole day and others rushing from one event to the next, from early to late, all without a break or a day off. The epa team is a real dream team, producing an excellent photo coverage for its customers all over the world.
What is left for the IT is the daily duty, some support, some fixing or replacement of a cut or frozen network cable. No more challenge until the show ends with the Closing Ceremony. Then everybody will be off back home, only the rear guard will roll back the operation and bring everything back home.
And an important Russian word: “Poyekhali”, as Yuri Gagarin said on his trip into the orbit. It is used when you raise the vodka glass as well.
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epa’s Regional Chief Photographer, Adrian Bradshaw, on air pollution in China
2003 we had the SARS outbreak and had to get to work wearing facemasks to avoid catching the deadly respiratory illness.
2014 and air pollution has made the old paper medical masks redundant: now we need industrial strength filters in our face masks. Even my ten year old daughter is an expert on the air quality index and PM2.5, the particulate measure that indicates whether the air is the usual ‘very unhealthy’ or the more alarming, maximum ‘hazardous’ level of 300.
When the level reaches 150 or at some schools 200, all outdoor activities are halted. The index was only made to go up to 500, well above anything measured in the US where it originated, but it is now quite frequently off the charts in Beijing. As I write it is 427.
The World Health Organisation has just released a report that as of 2012, the latest year with comprehensive figures, air pollution is the leading leading cause of premature death, accounting for more than 7 million deaths annually around the world. The problem is global but the epicentre is northeast Asia. The Chinese government is now openly tackling the problem of air pollution, at least rhetorically, after years of denial. Premier Li Keqiang declared ‘War on Pollution’ at his recent annual press conference as a national priority. An official survey made the observation that only three of China’s major cities meet national air quality standards. Thousands don’t.
Survival takes precedence over getting pictures in those conditions and most people simply follow government orders and stay at home. When we do venture out it is with the best protection possible, either the maximum filtration of the 3M N99 disposable mask or the horror movie type Respro masks which bring back the look Hannibal Lector made so unfashionable in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Even with these devices a constant hacking cough and stinging eyes has been the norm living in Beijing. A long term study just published by the British Medical Journal and Beijing University indicates that children born in Beijing now will lose 15 to 16 years of life expectancy due to toxins in the air.
Besides the personal concerns this story is one of global importance: it has been reported that the number one source of air pollution on the west coast of the US is China. Most of the toxins come from coal, much of which is imported from countries that insist on cutting out coal burning in their own territory but don’t seem to have a problem selling to China. This may change. In the meantime it feels like photographers are going to have to get used to a more monochrome look hereabouts.
Adrian Bradshaw Facing Air Pollution
by How Hwee Young
Covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is one of the best assignments I have received so far, but it was not without its usual or unusual hiccups as with any major coverage. It started on the third day of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse with a 12-hour-flight from Singapore to Frankfurt for transit before landing in Sochi after another four hours in the air. Having just been relocated back from China to balmy Singapore, I was rather dreading the drastic difference in temperatures. Ditching the traditional light dresses of Chinese New Year visitations, I donned my heavy Beijing winter clothes again, which I had been hoping to lock away forever, to arrive in a temporary airport terminal on a wintry night with our Southeast Asia Chief Barbara Walton.
The main Sochi airport was not built to handle the hordes of journalists, photographers, athletes and visitors descending on the city. We watched with trepidation as our bags and equipment rolled in slowly on a single conveyor belt surrounded by a huge crowd of cold and tired passengers, all vying for the same limited number of trolleys. Getting our bags was only the first hurdle, we then have to queue with our heavy luggages to get our accreditation passes. The Russian volunteers in their colourful Sochi Olympic-themed jackets and caps directed us with smiles of cheerful exuberance to a table where they handed us our slick press passes fresh through lamination machines. It was however hard for the exhausted and grouchy photographer to return the smiles with the same joviality.
And of course the bus going to our hotel was full and there would not be another one stopping at our terminal. Unfazed, the cheery volunteers led us on foot with the same good spirits to the main terminal about 500 meters away, helping us push and pull our luggage and equipment along the way. They promised that would be a bus there that would take us to our hotel and only a five minute wait for the half hour journey.
Two hours later, we finally arrived at our accommodations. One would assume we could kick back and relax at last with a hot shower. But as usual, that was not to be. Hot water would not come on for us till two days later. By then, pretty much nothing could make our stay any worse or daunt our ‘toughened Olympic’ spirit…though I have heard that another journalist had his hotel room ceiling collapsed on him, but that’s another story.
And so it is that we plunged into the Winter Olympics coverage. The opening ceremony was a wonderful spectacle of Russian largesse featuring key moments of the country’s history and arts. I had the floor position and was rather delighted to find at least three sites fixed with our epa cables during the rehearsal, making it easy for me to send my pictures direct from the camera wherever I was shooting on the floor. Or so I thought.
The last Olympic ring failing to open was not the only glitch in the opening ceremony. None of the cables worked for the first half of the actual show, through no fault of our dedicated epa IT technicians, though. It was a malfunction that affected everyone including all the other agencies. They however had at least two photographers each on the floor and had runners delivering their cards while I was the only one running like a headless chicken from one cable site to the next. I think there was a collective sigh of relief when the cables started working again, but none louder than mine!
The rest of the games was focused on figure skating and short track speed skating which I had been assigned to shoot. Photographing figure skating was a dream come true especially teamed with the tenacious Barbara and talented Tatyana Zenkovich of Belarus. I love the sport, the music and the beauty of skaters’ movements. The Canon 1D X paired with the 200-400mm lens was a perfect combination and I experimented heavily with multiple exposures and slow shutter speeds, often much to the chagrin of our brilliant sports editors led by the magnificent Gernot Hensel. It was however a liberation of creativity – to challenge what had been and what could be and I loved it!
Multiple Exposures: Gracie Gold of the USA
Since I returned to Singapore, I have had many questions from people as to how the multiple exposures were done, some even asking how much time I spent on ‘comping’ the pictures together in post-production. I had to laugh because the time between when the pictures were taken on the camera and sent out on the wire was a matter of seconds! There was no time for any post production. Our editors would go mad if they have to do any of that nonsense!
Here’s how it’s done. The Canon 1D X has an in-camera multiple exposure function that would allow multiple exposures of up to 9 bursts to be exposed on a single frame. Composition, framing, shutter speeds, rhythm of the skaters in frame have to be decided in between 1/1600th to 1/8th of seconds. Cables connected directly to our cameras ensure that the pictures in their raw form are sent at 100 Mbit/s directly to editors hard at work in the main press centre. They make the selection, crop, levels, caption and the pictures are sent out on the wires within seconds. It was a speed game, and getting the best pictures out there in the shortest amount of time possible is paramount in the highly competitive arena of Olympic sports shooting for wire agencies.
Multiple Exposures: Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia
Due to our grueling schedule, I only had time to visit the venues in the mountains on the second last day of the games and it was beautiful. I learnt how difficult and physically demanding it was for our colleagues up in the mountains to work in the snow ladened with heavy equipment yet manage to produce stunning images every day that wins the play for us. I was at once humbled and immensely proud to work alongside such esteemed colleagues.
Overall it was a great experience, one that surpassed my last Olympic coverage in Beijing and I am very glad to be able to meet so many talented and accomplished colleagues to learn from and be inspired by. I will miss all of you. Till next time!
Kim Ludbrook, epa’s Regional Chief Photographer Africa, reflects his personal and professional experiences during the Nelson Mandela funeral
Planning for and covering the Nelson Mandela funeral was one of the most emotional, frustrating, tiring but memorable assignments I have ever been involved in.
As Regional Chief Photographer, my responsibility was to implement the Nelson Mandela funeral coverage, mostly following a basic plan that had been ready for almost ten years. Nelson Mandela passed away in the night of the 5th December 2013.
What was very emotional for me and our team — West Africa Chief Nic Bothma, Kenya photographer Dai Kurokawa, and Bangkok editor Udo Weitz – was Mandela’s hospitalization.
The waiting became us and we became the waiting.
Often when my phone rang late at night for some other reason, I would think its the dreaded ‘Mandela call’.
“I realized it would be one of the defining assignments of my career, but as a South African I simply did not want him to die.”
Here, one didn’t speak of Mandela’s passing, it wasn’t done. It was perceived as incomprehensible by those outside the media industry to even be talking about it, let alone ‘planning’ to cover his funeral. We had to have a basic plan including staffing and technical details but knew along that we would only be given the final funeral plan days and even hours prior to the event’s happening.
I often worried about how I would personally cope with having to be in professional mode covering the event and then at the same time spending some personal time as a South African, relating to his death.
This was answered on the first day of his lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. After having covered his coffin arriving at the buildings as a pool photographer, I asked officials if I could view his body along with the thousands of South Africans who where filing past his coffin.
Every person was searched for cameras and cell phones as the government and family, out of respect, did not want any images of Mandela in his open casket seen by the world. So I put my gear down and joined the line of people.
What an amazing moment. It was a split second. We were not allowed to stop at his coffin but where made to keep walking past. So a mental snap shot it was. A one-second view of this icon lying in his coffin, so humble and peaceful. Wearing a trade mark Madiba shirt, he had a quiet smile and a sense of silence and happiness.
I cried. Not out of a sense of loss because I had seen the final moment of a soul that has forever changed humanity; I realized that after having photographed him for so many years that I would never see Mandela again. Ever.
After the Wednesday lying in state, our attentions turned to his final resting and burial in Qunu, the tiny rural village where he was to find his final resting place. Qunu would prove to be very difficult logistically. One thing was sure though; there was to be a total lock-down of his grave site and his family house by security, so news agencies arranged a pool system during the entire funeral and official events.
Only one wire photographer, one local newspaper photographer, one government photographer and one shooting for the family were allowed to cover what was the biggest funeral in living memory. The rest of the media corps had no option but to cover features of local villages watching the funeral from hills in the area and on huge TV screens set up by the government. This on its own did not provide as strong an image as we had predicted.
What was most memorable about the Qunu leg of the journey was that Nic Bothma, who had driven from Cape Town to Qunu the day Mandela died, had arranged in advance a stunning mud hut to base our crew for the final two days of the funeral.
Often as journalists we have memories of amazing experiences while covering stories, and this was one of them.
All six epa staffers where sleeping on the dung floor of the hut on mattresses, cooking our own food, running all power off car charges and loving it!
The family who owned the hut had moved all their belongings to one hut next door and had made us feel so welcome and at home. On the Saturday night prior to the Sunday funeral, Dai Kurokawa and Paris photographer Ian Langsdon had even taken an outside shower under a huge rain storm with water pouring off the roof.
And so as fast as the story began at 11 p.m. on 05th December 2013 until late afternoon on 15th December, it ended.
After we had transmitted our last images to our Frankfurt headquarters we ended up all sitting in the hut in rural Africa sharing stories and memories; South Africans, one Japanese based in Kenya, one American based in Israel, one British-American living in Paris and one German based in Bangkok.
The world of epa had come to say a final goodbye to a man we will never see the likes of again in our lifetimes.
RIP Nelson Mandela.
Thanks to epa’s amazing staff, editor Udo Weitz, photographers Ian Langsdon, Dai Kurokawa, Jim Hollander and Nic Bothma, and our stringers and desk editors for being part of this event.
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In a personal account, Dennis M. Sabangan, epa’s long-time Chief Photographer on the Philippines, reflects upon covering super typhoon Haiyan which has hit his country so brutally.
It was the day after the Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the country when I trooped to the Villamor airbase to catch a C130 flight to Tacloban. Typical of journalists, it is when everyone rushes away from a disaster, that we scramble to get close. It was such that when I arrived at VIllamor, there already was a long queue of journalists waiting for a flight to ground zero of the disaster area.
Only 15 passengers were allowed in on a first come first served basis and I was at the bottom of the list. It was only after endless negotiations with authorities that I was finally included in the manifesto of passengers.
Yet if physically getting to Tacloban was difficult already, just imagine the situation we had to contend with when we got there. From the airport, we had to walk four hours to reach the city, which didn’t look like a city anymore. Quite frankly, it looked as if a bomb had dropped. Nothing was spared. It was at that area that we shot some of the most heart breaking pictures.
A Night Under The Impression Of The Super Typhoon Haiyan
When night came, we all had to walk back to the airport. We slept inside the dilapidated office building of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP). It has four rooms and there, packed like sardines on the muddy floor, we tried to sleep.
Air traffic officer slept beside army men who slept beside us journalists–all of us enduring the cramped space, the humidity and the constant fear that the damaged ceiling might soon collapse. Fearing pneumonia, I slept instead on top of a 2ft by 3 ft table.
But it wasn’t just the fear of collapsing roofs and boding illnesses that plagued us. There was something more basic we had to fight with in Tacloban: our hunger. The food supplies we brought from Manila lasted all of two days. Once at the Tacloban airport, we befriended Air Force Lt. General Roy Deveraturda, former chief of the Central Command based at Mactan airbase. He gave his lunch to us to share with three other media colleagues.
As food and water were scarce, it took the cunningness of a street urchin to survive. To find food to feed the epa crew, we would get rice from one Air Force unit, and then go to another Army unit to get some more viands.
Francis* and I came in first along with other journalist friends, but our group soon grew.
Eventually, the epa crew grew to comprise of Mast Irham (Indonesia) Nic Bothma (South Africa) Bagus Indahono (Indonesia) Ritchie B. Tongo (Filipino) Rolex dela Pena (Filipino based in Beijing) and two more photographers, Joseph and Romy. Just imagine eight hungry men sharing four cups of rice placed on a banana leaf.
And then there was the time when we chanced upon an abandoned barangay** hall (office of the village chief) where three families took shelter after the storm. They shared their food with us which they said they found in a store. For a moment, I debated with myself, wondering if I should accept the food they offered knowing most likely that it was not paid for. But what the heck, I was hungry. I took the food only to realize grimly that the dead bodies we passed to enter the barangay hall were intentionally placed there by its occupants, “to ward off looters”, they said.
A few days after we arrived in Tacloban, I had the chance to go with a SOKOL chopper to take aerial shots of Samar. The SOKOL helicopter airlifted sacks of rice, to give relief to the survivors. While on the plane, I observed how hardened pilots had to hold back their tears as they avoided the survivors rushing towards the chopper. They knew as well as I did that heads will be chopped off by the tail motor if they did not. But I saw how much they wanted to help. The moment we landed, survivors scrambled to get inside, to have a share of the sacks of rice. In their eyes I saw hunger and pain.
Yet, somehow we can still manage to tell jokes and laugh – a Filipino trait perhaps or a way to cope with the crises we face. Like when a survivor asked me if I had any medicine with me for his pus-filled wounds. “As much as I would like to help but the only medicine I have with me is for heart ailments. You might die of heart failure instead of your wounds”, I told him. He laughed.
I came to Tacloban as a photographer. But this experience has taught me important life lessons and skills for survival such as resourcefulness, building friendships and the true meaning of camaraderie. Yolanda (Haiyan) has given me the most humbling of experiences as I learned to swallow my pride to ensure the welfare of the epa team; that we would all survive the day and not sleep hungry so as to have the strength to start the next day and do it all again.
Just as I knew the mission of the soldiers and pilots we slept and ate with, I knew ours: to bring the images, and the stories behind those images to the world, and to show the realities of what this disaster has caused my country. Only then can the true magnitude of the displacement and suffering it has caused be seen, so we can help the victims regain their dignity and rebuild their lives.
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*Francis R. Malasig, epa staff photographer on the Philippines
**A barangay formerly called barrio, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward.
Nic Bothma, regional chief photographer at epa european pressphoto agency, reports from his assignment on the eastern Philippines devastated by super typhoon Haiyan.
Landing in Tacloban airport at night to join the formidable Philippines crew of Dennis, Francis, Mast, and Ritchy* was like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie. I was the only one on a late night US C-130 flight. After the cargo was unloaded I jumped out the back of the plane carrying 4 backpacks of gear and supplies to find crowds around the aircraft trying to board being pushed back by soldiers. The propellers of the plane were still going and it was dark, people were everywhere and I picked my way around the plane making sure I was not to become chop suey by the props. I was sure someone was about to be. There did not seem to be anyone in control except a few soldiers running around.
About 35 meters from the tarmac was the epa office/accommodation of the crew who had been living amongst the rubble of the airport control tower for five days with very little water or food. Ritchy spotted me in the crowd and we made our way through throngs of refugees. Stepping over families trying to sleep and people standing almost everywhere amongst rubble and debris. I was sweating like a pig in the hot and humid tropical air, the mosquitos behaved like kamikaze pilots, the smell unforgettable.
Meeting the crew was awesome and we began joking and laughing and have not stopped. It’s a great way to get perspective rather than getting sucked in and too serious.
The first few days of this story were covered by Dennis and Francis who are my heros. They did unbelievable work in some of the worst conditions imaginable. When I arrived there was a shortage of food and water. We had brought some in so were ok for a bit till more could arrive. The coverage started turning and broadening from its original focus of corpses, rescue, evacuations to starting to tell more of the human stories.
I seem to gravitate towards children when I am in a country covering something. After a few days it dawned on me that the portraits would be a great way to simplify the story telling and try make something unique. There are a plethora of images surging through the wire each day between the five big agencies all very well represented here.
Photographing the Children of Haiyan portrait series these last few days during coverage of the aftermath of the Typhoon was extremely rewarding for me. I find children are pure, honest and unencumbered with ego and baggage that adults carry. They bring hope and reflect light in dark places. None more so than in the eastern Philippines where these kids survived the world’s biggest storm with most losing everything including relatives but continue to smile in a lot of cases.
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*epa photographers covering the typhoon aftermath on the Philippiness: Dennis Sabangan, Francis Malasig, Mast Irham, Nic Bothma, Ritchie B. Tongo, Bagus Indahono, Jay Rommel Labra and Rolex Dela Pena
Matt Campbell, Director and Chief Photographer – North America at epa, is sharing the story of how he got into the european pressphoto agency and what it was like to open up epa’s editorial operation in the US. Thank you, Matt Campbell, for sharing this story with us!
When the european pressphoto agency approached me, Matt Campbell, in early 2003 about coming on board to launch the epa office in New York City prior to the company’s May 1 global launch, I could not have been happier! The timing was perfect and the job description sounded almost too good to be true.
I gladly applied for the job and was shortly thereafter hired on March 1, 2003. It is almost impossible for me to fathom that a decade has passed since then! Those first few months were a frenetic challenge of trying to quickly establish a theretofore almost unknown company name in the US (epa content was previously distributed in the US via another agency so an epa byline was a rarity in the States). Being in NYC, I was in a place to sit down with many representatives from organizations ranging from the NBA to the United Nations to explain who the european pressphoto agency was and obtain credentialing recognition.
Matt Campbell about the european pressphoto agency in the US
In mid-2003 we were five full timers in the entire US and Canada. A staff photographer in NYC, LA, Washington, DC and Miami plus a Director in Washington, DC. Many of the freelancers who began working with epa at that time still work closely with us today and more importantly many of those original stringers are now employed as full-time staff photographers.
epa now has full time staff in Boston, NYC, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and LA with multiple full timers in three of those cities. Our office in Washington went from a literal closet in a partner agency’s office in 2003 to an office which we recently doubled in size from the one which we had moved to in 2007 from that previous closet! epa’s global picturedesk operation which had run only in Frankfurt for many years, now expanded to Washington, Cairo and Bangkok and a full-time desk editor now works in DC as part of the US operation. Indeed sixteen full time employees from that original five is amazing growth for a media company, especially considering the turbulent economy of the US in the past six years and even more turbulence within the media industry!
In ten years, the european pressphoto agency has lived up to my original image of a flexible and creative company looking to approach photojournalism from a different view. I have often said I would rather a photographer miss the ‘standard’ photo because he or she was trying to make something different and better than to just line up with the pack and make a copy. The approach of tight, talented groups tackling event coverage rather than big teams of blanket coverage has been a successful and rewarding approach to so many things we have done.
It has been said that the person who wakes up every day excited about what they do at work is ahead of most people. The past ten years has been actual proof for me that this adage is true. I have worked alongside some of the most talented people in the business at epa since 2003 and like waking up on a new day, I’m looking eagerly ahead to another decade of enthralling images and friendship from my colleagues at the european pressphoto agency. – Matt Campbell
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