In a combined write-up, epa’s team of photographers covering the attacks in Paris on 13th November, 2015 and the aftermath were asked to share a few thoughts and stories behind their images.
By Yoan Valat
I was home enjoying a dinner with my parents who came to Paris from the South of France to attend the reception at the Elysee Palace for the Photography award* I received the same day by French President, Francois Hollande.
We were watching the soccer game France vs Germany and could hear the bombs on TV but did not realize what they were until TV commentators started to say something was going on. So I changed to a TV live info channel, and they were already mentioning bombs outside the stadium. I called Benjamin [Benjamin Légier, epa’s Bureau Chief France and Luxembourg], he was already aware and had a new piece of news about the shooting at the Café Carillon, about 15min by car from my place. So I went immediately but got stopped on my way by armed forces police about one km away from the cafe. This is when I realized it was a series of attacks ongoing in the streets of Paris. Then Benjamin called me back to ask me to rush to the Bataclan concert hall, where I arrived about five minutes later. Police and some army soldiers were already surrounding the place but it was still possible to be at a reasonable distance to take pictures. This is when I saw the first injured people being evacuated from the Bataclan.
The most important thing to me is the reaction of the population. It cannot be compared with the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo story. In January, people were really angry and combative, they were without fear, one could say. Today, it is so different. People realize it can happen anytime and anywhere in France. And the number of the victims is so big that we all know close friends who lost or who have injured friends.
*Yoan Valat, epa staff photographer based in Paris, was awarded First Prize in “Prix d’Elysée de la Photographie 2014/2015”. The prize was handed to him by Francois Hollande in a ceremony held at Elysée Palace on 13th November, 2015 at midday.
By Ian Langsdon
Everything was working fine. The Stade de France’s unstable internet connection was (for once) holding up, and pictures of the France-Germany friendly soccer match were rolling out at a steady pace. Then there was a bang. Loud enough to make me look up from my computer screen. The crowd cheered, while fellow photographers looked at each other and shrugged it off, dismissing it as a big firecracker which soccer fans often set off during games. A few minutes later, it happened again. Louder.
A flood of missed calls from the office suddenly popped up on my phone – the connection unable to establish in the 80,000-strong crowd in the stadium. This couldn’t be a good sign. I finally reached Benjamin on the phone: “There’s a shooting in central Paris, many dead, and rumours of an explosion outside the stadium.”
I packed up my gear and ran around the pitch to Etienne Laurent’s position, where he and a couple of other photographers had already packed up and were ready to head outside. The only problem was, the stadium was in lockdown. The authorities kept the whole situation quiet, as the match continued playing – and the crowd had not seemed phased by the explosion sounds whatsoever. They had no idea.
After retrieving our press cards from the front desk, a group of around six of us proceeded to the perimeter gate, which was being blocked by a security guard, refusing to let us out. He didn’t stand a chance. We flattened him as we pushed our way past him, out into the open grounds around the stadium. Outside, there was an eerie sense of calm, despite a heavy police presence. Operating on a rumour that there had been an explosion near a fast-food restaurant near a small piazza where Etienne and I had parked out motorbikes, we made our way around the stadium, asking police officers on the way what the situation was. The summary of it was: ‘No idea.’
We reached the piazza to find that it had become the medical and command centre for rescue operations. Police with machine guns stood guard, and there was a general sense of confusion as to what the perimeter was. Some policemen allowed us to walk around and shoot pictures while others attempted to push us back to where a small crowd had gathered. Suddenly two firefighters appeared from around the corner, helping a shirtless man hopping on one foot. I photographed him being loaded into the ambulance, as three more injured people made their way towards us. At this point, I had not yet grasped the full scale of these tragic attacks. I only saw four injured victims that night, unlike my many colleagues who witnessed gruesome, difficult scenes.
With the stadium perimeter becoming increasingly difficult to operate around, and with unfolding events in Paris, I was called back into the city to reinforce the team. At 2am on a Friday night, crowds are usually spilling out of bars into the streets. But it was a ghost town, where only sirens echoed. That sound hasn’t stopped in five days.
I came to photograph soccer. I left, having covered part of the worst terror attack Paris ever saw.
I never found out what the final score was.
Candles and flowers. That’s how my year started, in the aftermath of the shocking attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a block away from where I live. And here I am again, surrounded by candles and flowers, this time at the Bataclan, a block away from where I live. Or at the Carillon, or Petit Cambodge or Cosa Nostra restaurants, all 10 minutes away.
The response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks had quickly turned political, almost into a militant celebration, as the world rallied behind slogans like ‘Je suis Charlie’. We grasped pens to symbolize that freedom of speech will always prevail. We organized a march. But this time, Paris’ youth was targeted. The victims were all predominantly young adults, enjoying the usual friday night leisures we all indulge in. This wasn’t a targeted assassination of cartoonists who had angered fundamentalists. This was gratuitous killing, with the objective of inflicting maximal damage. Despite the world’s outpouring of support – with ‘Je suis Paris’, ‘#PrayForParis’ and red-white-and-blue Facebook profile pictures – nothing will turn this into a militant celebration. Things are different this time. There is only grief.
Parisians awoke Saturday morning to a changed Paris. But they needed to take in the full scale of the horror in person. Thousands flocked to Carillon, the Petit Cambodge, the Cosa Nostra, the Bonne Bierre, the Belle Equipe, Comptoire Voltaire and Bataclan. Some would leave flowers, others would spend hours battling gusts of wind to light and re-light candles. People left letters, drawings, pictures, bottles of wine. The silence was deafening at every site. Occasionally, someone would timidly begin singing the Marseillaise (France’s national anthem), and a hushed, wobbly-voiced choir would monotonously join in, provoking outbursts of tears. The crowds were always teetering on the edge, emotionally.
The working conditions were complicated. On the one hand, the raw emotion at these sites provided strong visuals. On the other hand, pointing a camera in someone’s face as they cry is never easy. We were affected too. I hid behind my camera the whole time. Living these scenes through the viewfinder allowed me to put up the emotional wall needed to work. I’m a young adult, I knew these bars, and this is the second terror attack in my neighbourhood in one year. Maybe it’s time to move.
By Christophe Petit-Tesson
Je me souviendrai du 13 Novembre 2015.
Je me souviendrai aussi de la photo de l’évacuation de survivants dans ce bus. Cette photo je ne l’aie pas voulu, pas chercher. Je viens de passer 3 heures dans un buisson en face du Bataclan ou j’ai entendu les cris, les balles et les explosions sans presque rien voir car des camions de Police m’empêchent de voir la façade de la salle. Encore sonné, je croise 5, 10, je ne sais plus, regards qui me transpercent tous en même temps et je n’ai qu’un reflexe ; lever mon appareil photo, que puis-je faire d’autre ?
Je ne réalise pas que cette photo sera publiée dans de nombreux titres un peu partout dans le monde. Sur les réseaux sociaux ou elle est partagée je la vois encore et encore et ils me regardent toujours droit dans les yeux. Elle raconte l’horreur mais sans les armes, ni le sang, ni la violence juste la douleur d’un Vendredi 13 Novembre.
I will remember the November 13, 2015.
I also will remember the picture of the evacuation of survivors in a bus. This picture I did not want to take, I was not looking for it. I just spent three hours in a bush in front of the Bataclan where I heard the assault’s screams, bullets and explosions without seeing almost anything because police trucks prevented me from seeing the front of the concert room. Still shocked , I see 5, 10, or I don’t know how many, eyes that pierce me all at once and I have just one reflex: raise my camera, what else can I do?
I did not realize that this photo will be published in numerous titles around the world. On social networks, where it is shared , I can see it again and again, and still they look me straight in the eyes. The photo recounts the horror but without the arms, nor blood, nor violence, just the pain of Friday, November 13.
By Laurent Dubrule
This photo was taken near the Bataclan the day after the attacks. For me it represents the ambient chaos … a lost shoe on the pavement 200 meters away from the premises of the drama, blood streaks and people beginning to come to pray, just a few hours before the injured were attended to, even on the ground … candles, flowers, shoes, blood, horror ….
This photo was taken during the minute of silence next to the Bataclan the Monday following the attacks in Paris. Hundreds and thousands of people gathered to pray – among them these three women of Iranian origin attracted my attention … a simple photo, sweet, but so tragic ….
By Etienne Laurent
As Ian explained getting out of the stadium was not an easy task. We had both parked our motorbikes at the exact location where the rescue squads had set up their control center and I had to argue with a police officer before he kindly accepted (would probably say kindly agreed) to let us remove our vehicles.
At this point, I was only focused on the task at hand, I took a few pictures of the first injured people to arrive and sent them as quickly as possible. I had no time to think about what was happening as messages and texts from friends and family started to pile up in my phone.
I sent a few texts back to tell them saying I was ok during the 2 minutes before Benjamin called to dispatch me to the ‘Carillon’ and ‘Le Petit Cambodge’. I put the warnings on and rode as fast as possible, it was already late and I knew most of the routes would have checkpoints forbidding access.
As I rode, I was grasping the reality of the attacks. A coordinated action involving several groups, it wasn’t isolated as it was for Charlie.
When I arrived from the direction of the Saint Louis Hospital, the road was blocked. I tried to argue with the police but they wouldn’t let me go through so I decided to try side streets to get closer to the scene.
I had received messages from my closest friends and I knew my little brother was ok.
As I rode around to find access, I found myself face to face with a unit of police all weapons drawn and walking slowly up the street searching for possible terrorists. They ordered me out of the street so I parked on the side and started to follow them from a distance, my back always against a wall.
In the dim orange light of the street lamps, the scene was out of this world, this country. The officers were walking from door to door, tree to tree, corners to corners. They were tensed shouting at passers by to get out of there, to find shelter, their weapons pointing at them.
Suddenly, one of their colleagues following them with a car called them back. They ran toward him and quickly jumped into the car and drove away in an instant.
I ran to my motorbike to retrieve my computer and sent the pictures I had taken. I was then dispatched to the Bataclan to reinforce.
This first night was surreal, I remember it as something you would have experienced as an outside character. And in a sense, I was an outside character. My mind was blank all this time, I had no feelings but this pain in my stomach and a dull rage building up in the back of head, it was terrible, it was far too big for something like this to happen here, in these places I had been with friends for drinks or a bite.
On Monday, at noon, a minute of silence was observed all over France. The ‘Carillon’ and ‘Le Petit Cambodge’, one in front of the other, are located 10 minutes away from my flat in a working class and young neighbourhood. There, the communities mix together, whether they are French, from Asia, or Maghreb, young or older.
I arrived at 11.30, a crowd was already gathering when a Cambogian man arrived with a plastic pole and started to set up a French flag helped by an elderly man and another, a Muslim who later would pray, his two eyes turned toward the sky. As all three were hanging the flag from the pole, no sound could be heard in the too heavy atmosphere, with the exception of muffled sobs erupting here and there, breaking the air.
It was hard for me to take pictures staying there just thinking trying to make a sense of it all . The sound of the shutters from my camera and my colleagues was tearing up this silence, this moment of contemplation and seemed unbearable to my ears.
I suddenly realized tears were rolling down my cheeks, slowly without a sound. All the emotions I was shutting down during the past three days were emerging. I felt rage and despair but also pride as I was watching the crowd and these three men working together setting up a flag as a symbol to rally them all against this terror, this horror that shook us all.
By Julien Warnand
Words fail me. What I can only say is that after three days of photographing people paying tribute, crying, placing mourning flowers and candles, I found something special in this picture of a man comforting a woman in his arms at Place de la Republique, someting between compassion and hope:
By Guillaume Horcajuelo
Pour moi, parmi la couverture photo que j’ai du effectuer, cette photo est un moment intéressant. L’Élysée organise un pool photo pour une minute de silence a l’université de la Sorbonne avec Francois Hollande, Manuel Valls, Premier ministre, et Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Ministre de l’éducation. L’équipe de presse nous prepositionne dans la cour de la Sorbonne, symbole de liberté, les étudiants sont eux positionnés en fer à cheval. Le directeur annonce l’arrivée imminente du président et demande l’extinction des téléphones portables. Dans un silence très lourd, les centaines d’ étudiants attendent, aucun bruit, aucune parole, aucune sonnerie de portable ne vient troubler ce lourd silence alors que la minute n’a pas encore commencé.
Le président et les ministres arrivent, prennent position au millieu des étudiants, observent la minute de silence. À la fin, c’est un tonnerre d’applaudissements qui surgit de l’extérieur. Et qui vient se répandre dans la cour. À leur tour, les étudiants claquent des mains. Puis au moment du départ le président serre quelques mains et se retire. Les applaudissements semblent interminables. C’est alors que les étudiants restent en position, attendent… On sent qu’ils ne veulent pas que se moment se termine, qu’ils ne veulent pas partir et c’est alors qu’ils se mettent à chanter la Marseillaise à l’unisson. Un très beau moment riche en émotions, non organisé par le protocole. Certains pleurent mais la plupart d’entre eux n’exprime que peu d’expression . En partant j’entend un étudiant dire ” c’était tellement beau mais c’était trop court “.
À cet instant on sent le courage et la force de ces étudiants de Paris, ceux-là mêmes qui fréquentent les terrasses de cafés et les salles de concert, un minute de courage tous ensembles contre les heures d’angoisses vécues depuis 2 jours.
Among all the photos I had to take during this period, this picture is particularly interesting to me. The Elysee Palace organized pool coverage of the minute of silence at the Sorbonne University with President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. The press organizers show us our position in the courtyard of the University, a symbol of Freedom; the students stand in a semi-circle around the officials. The director announces the imminent arrival of the President and asks everyone to turn their mobile phones off.
In heavy silence, hundreds of students wait. There is no noise, no talking, no phones ringing to disturb the deep silence before the minute of commemoration starts.
The President and his ministers enter, stand among the students and observe the minute of silence which ends to thunderous applause coming from outside the school and spreading into the courtyard. All the students start clapping. While departing, the President shakes some hands and disappears. At that moment, the students stand and wait… we can feel that they don’t want this moment to end like this, they don’t want to leave and then they start singing the national anthem “La Marseillaise” in perfect unison.
A moment full of emotion, not organized by protocol. Some young people cry but most of them show blank expressions on their faces.
Before I leave the Sorbonne, I hear a student saying: “It was so beautiful but it was too short”.
I could feel the strength and the courage of the students of Paris, the ones who gather on the terraces of the cafés and at the concert venues. A minute of bravery, all united against the fear felt over the past two days.