PART FIFTEEN IN A SERIES OF POSTS DISCUSSING PHOTOGRAPHERS’ ACTIONS AND RESPONSES TO THE KILLING OF FABIENNE CHERISMA IN PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI ON THE 19TH JANUARY 2010.
The aftermath of the Haiti earthquake was zealously covered by the media and American networks particularly.
Several factors likely fed the saturation of disaster over the wires – Haiti’s geographic proximity; Haiti’s diaspora and cultural ties within the US; fresh memories of the controversial, US-backed coup and removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide; and collective guilt over (or, alternatively, the collective amnesia of) the US’ corporate involvement in Haiti.
The US was going in full-yield again.
The lifeless body of fifteen-year-old Fabienne Cherisma lies on the roof of a fallen building in downtown Port-au-Prince while looters file down the street on January 19, 2010. The young girl was carrying three ornamental mirrors when she was hit by a random shot from Haitian police as she walked with looters on the street. Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star.
WHY ONE IMAGE?
The still Fabienne Cherisma surrounded by the bustle of opportunists jolted me from my image-stupor for long enough to realise it was time to voluntarily step off the media-photo-treadmill and pay attention to a single image, a single person, a single story.
It occurred to me that this was barely a risk. If the majority of the imagery had stopped informing then I really had nothing to lose by redirecting my energies and time elsewhere.
(Please, don’t misunderstand me: I appreciate the purpose for a lot of media images, and I believe that they deliver immediate messages which catalyse reaction, donations and aid. That said, emoting a response in an audience is a distinct function to that of informing an audience.)
In all honesty, I may have never have seen that image and with that in mind, I may have paid particular attention to another single victim of the earthquake. Chance? Compulsion? My “small contribution”? I don’t know. I don’t want to minimise my analysis of Fabeinne Cherisma’s death in photographs, but nor do I know exactly what it is yet …
Now, after some time, two unique things about the image of the dead Fabienne Cherisma still stand out.
In other pictures bodies were either buried, dusted, pulverised or piled high with other corpses. If they lay in the streets they were circled by onlookers. Fabienne’s body was isolated. Secondly, unlike 230,000 of her compatriots, it wasn’t the violent instability of concrete in the physical environment that killed Fabienne, it was the violent fallibility of human decision making that killed her; a bullet, from a gun, in a hand.
MAN-MADE NATURAL DISASTER
It has been said that no natural disaster is simply that, but that every disaster comprises natural and man-made factors. Man-made corruption, political instability and resultant poverty led to inadequate (if any) building codes. Just as human decisions prior to the quake cost lives, so they would after the quake.
The rainy season is about to begin in Haiti and the quality of aid, community solidarity, flood and disease abatement measures will determine how many people succumb to this second wave of elemental assault.
Fabienne, to me, was one of the first victims to fall to poor human decision-making following the earthquake. Others have perished since and unfortunately, thousands more are likely to die. (I read an estimated 5,000 people may die in the predicted mudslides, but I don’t know on which this is based – the cold calculation makes me quite uncomfortable).
Fabienne’s death was not in the earthquake but in its aftermath.
The day after seeing Garcia Rawlin‘s photograph for Reuters, I found a virtually identical image by Jan Grarup, except Fabienne’s body was positioned differently. Suddenly, time and timing was brought to bear upon Fabienne’s demise. Two photographers. Soon after, I saw the work of Olivier Laban-Mattei, whose photographs followed the family down the street as they carried the body. Three photographers.
Once I had launched my inquiry, the full picture developed quickly. An interview with Michael Mullady. Four photographers. Shortly after, Edward Linsmier discussed his experiences at the same locations. He was with Nathan Weber. Six photographers.
At this point I was already in contact with Grarup and Mullady. Garcia-Rawlins and Laban-Mattei did not respond to inquiries and have not until this day (I cannot be certain they received my inquiries). Grarup’s response mentioned Paul Hansen and Jan Dago. Eight photographers.
Hansen was also accompanied by Michael Winarski, US correspondent for Dagens Nyheter. Eight photographers, one reporter.
The next photojournalist to surface was James Oatway. Ten journalists – nine photographers, one reporter. Oatway mentioned Alon Skuy, who in turn mentioned the delayed arrival of Felix Dlangamandla upon the scene. Eleven photographers.
Soon thereafter, a reader alerted me to Frederic Sautereau‘s portfolio containing graphic images of disorder, skirmishes, police and Fabienne’s corpse. Fifteen photographers.
1.) There may well have been more photographers on the scene. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn so.
2.) A couple of photographers mentioned giving others space and trying not to get in others’ shots and avoiding getting photographers in their frames. Why? If a situation is chaotic and journalists are part of that chaos, what does it matter if photographers or journalists are in the scene?
Jan Grarup photographs police beating a looter in downtown Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon. © Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star.
Tuesday, January 19th. Photo: Jan Grarup/NOOR Images
As a small step, this mutual refusal to depict fellow professionals in the field, can be understood as the first step toward a manipulated in front of a distant audience.
The erasure of fellow media from a scene is a paradox. Journalists are required to record events as they are, but if a photographer depicts them as if he or she is working in isolation – as if from a unique one-off viewpoint – then what is delivered is not an objective, neutral description but a construction.
3.) I am not criticising the photographers who have kindly given their time, thoughts and (often) emotions to this inquiry, but I am questioning the decisions at the photodesks of mass media. I usually only see images that implicate media/photographers when the story becomes about them, when they get injured or kidnapped. Photojournalists are either the directors of a scene or the embattled hero of a scene; they are never bit-part players.
4.) I am convinced, CONVINCED, that enough evidence exists in the digital files of these fifteen photographers to identify and prosecute the policeman who fired the fatal shot.
© Alon Skuy
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ALSO IN THE ‘PHOTOGRAPHING FABIENNE’ SERIES
Part One: Fabienne Cherisma (Initial inquiries, Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban Mattei)
Part Two: More on Fabienne Cherisma (Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Part Three: Furthermore on Fabienne Cherisma (Michael Mullady)
Part Four: Yet more on Fabienne Cherisma (Linsmier, Nathan Weber)
Part Five: Interview with Edward Linsmier
Part Six: Interview with Jan Grarup
Part Seven: Interview with Paul Hansen
Part Eight: Interview with Michael Winiarski
Part Nine: Interview with Nathan Weber
Part Ten: Interview with James Oatway
Part Eleven: Interview with Nick Kozak
Part Twelve: Two Months On (Winiarski/Hansen)
Reporter Rory Carroll Clarifies Some Details
Part Fourteen: Interview with Alon Skuy
Part Sixteen: Fabienne Cherisma’s Corpse Features at Perpignan (Frederic Sautereau)
Part Seventeen: Brouhaha in Sweden following Award to Paul Hansen for his Image of Fabienne Cherisma (Paul Hansen, Olivier Laban Mattei, James Oatway)
Part Eighteen: A Photo of Fabienne Cherisma by Another Photographer Wins Another Award (Lucas Oleniuk)