PART FIVE 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.

Edward Linsmier was in Haiti from January 15th to January 20th.

Members of the public on a collapsed roof moments prior to Fabienne's fatal shooting. Photo: Edward Linsmier

Fabienne was shot at approximately 4pm. What had you photographed earlier that day?
Michael Mullady, Nathan Weber and I were all traveling around together while in Haiti. Earlier that day we had made our way to the airport, hired a fixer and driver, been to the mass graves, fired our fixer and driver, met up with our old fixer and made our way downtown. We photographed at the General Hospital (it’s also worth noting that Eric Beecroft at the Foundry Workshops donated about $350 worth of badly needed medical supplies to the General Hospital, which we were able to deliver in person), the port and we were making our way back through LaVille (where the Iron Market is) towards the Presidential Palace when we walked into the crowds looting and heard the gunshots.

Policemen had been instructed to fire high into the air to disperse members of the public. Photo: Edward Linsmier

Three members of the public take cover presumably from shots fired on a collapsed roof. Photo: Edward Linsmier

Edward describes the lead up to Fabienne’s death on the Adjustment Layer blog:
Soon lines of people began gathering goods seized from the bowels of the destroyed buildings. We followed the line up onto a downed roof top that led to the exposed insides of several shops filled with the scavenging and excited crowd. We were making pictures. Some people briefly yelled at us not to take their picture but hesitated to stay around long enough to enforce their requests. More gunshots filled the air. We couldn’t tell where they were coming from but they seemed close.

There was a commotion from not far down the street. The fixer motioned for me to come because the police had caught a man and had him down on the ground. I, in turn, motioned for my friend and fellow photographer, Nathan Weber, who was still on the slanting concrete rooftop to follow me to the commotion down the road. I yelled his name and he looked at me with a blank stare. Nathan is someone who is on point in a situation such as this. He communicates quickly, clearly and with authority when needed. He is no stranger to photographing in similar situations but something of this magnitude was new to both of us. I knew he heard me and figured he would be right behind me as I headed down to the commotion.

I began photographing a man on the ground and the fixer stood near us and began translating what the police were saying into English, all the while keeping a keen eye on our surroundings. Then someone ran past our fixer and said something in Creole. Our fixer then yelled to us that someone had been shot where we had just been. We ran maybe 50 yards back and climbed back up on the roof to see Nathan in almost the exact same spot where I last saw him, except he was looking at a girl who was lying face down on the slanting concrete roof. As best as I can recall, Nathan spoke in short sentences, “I saw her fall. I thought she tripped and knocked herself out. She’s dead. Fuck. She got shot. I was right here.”

The decision to continue making photographs was instinctual. More photographers showed up and we were all making pictures, composing the dead girl in the foreground as the looters continued to walk past her, almost over her, carrying whatever they could. Several men stopped to turn her over, seemingly to identify the body. They gently took her arms and almost had to twist her just a little to face her upward. They looked at her with little emotion and left. She had been shot in the head. From what I could tell, the bullet entered her cheek and exited from the back of her head. The blood had been pooling in some picture frames she was carrying when she fell. After the men moved her, the blood began to run down the slanting concrete roof towards us. We all were still making pictures. To anybody else, it must have looked sick, a crowd of photographers vying for the best position to tell the story of the death of a girl.

Edward recalls a detail he had forgotten for the Adjustment Layer interview:
I had almost forgotten completely about the individual that came up and literally took the money out of Fabienne’s lifeless grip. Upon looking back through my digital take, I have a sequence of a teenage boy coming up and taking the money.

Member of the public peers at Fabienne's body. Photo: Edward Linsmier

Did you discuss the tragedy with other photographers?
During a lull in photographing Fabienne, I spoke briefly with a photographer from Canada, perhaps the Toronto paper, and asked him how he was doing. It was a hot day and all of the photographers had been working hard as it was a decently fast-paced situation even before the shooting. We were both kneeling, facing away from the body and he said that he was a little shaken up. I think several of us were shaken up for multiple reasons. First and foremost, we were all photographing a young girl who had just been shot and killed. But I think we were also shaken up because within the last five minutes no less than three or four of us photographers had walked those exact same steps Fabienne was walking when she was gunned down.

How long was it until her family and father arrived to carry away Fabienne’s corpse?
I could check the timestamps on my digital files but I believe from the time Fabienne was shot until the father came to pick her up was about 20 minutes, perhaps 25 minutes.

Osama Cherisma, Fabienne's father (back right), and others carry Fabienne's corpse. Photo: Edward Linsmier

How many other photographers did you see at the scene? Do you know the photographers’ names?
I would estimate that there were anywhere from 6-10 photographers that photographed at various points throughout Fabienne’s death and journey home. I do not know any other full names of the photographers except for Michael Mullady, Nathan Weber and myself.

The atmosphere among the photographers was very professional. The feeling in the air was that this was something important and we were all going to do the best job we could in covering it. It was rather intense. We tried to stay out of each other’s frames and share the best angles when we could. I have to say that I was impressed with the other photographers there. They all seemed to care very much about what they were doing and they were all working very hard, hustling to get every shot they could.

How was the atmosphere? How did others behave?
As far as I know of the situation, all the photographers were very respectful of the situation. As I mentioned before, I did not experience any sort of backlash from the people we were photographing at all. As chaotic as the situation was, I felt that they were very open to us and even glad we were there.

Samantha Cherisma mourns and screams over her sister's body in the street. Photo: Edward Linsmier

How does Fabienne’s death fit in with the visual narratives of Haiti’s earthquake aftermath?
Any story like this, where people have been killed or are suffering, deserves to be done correctly and to be done correctly you need to have resources. I don’t necessarily mean monetary resources, but definitely enough to hire a fixer/translator on the ground. I don’t know if anything our fixer did saved our lives, but he kept us from harm’s way and without him, we definitely would not have made the pictures we made that day of Fabienne.

As far as how Fabienne’s death fits into the story of the earthquake – I think it’s an all too tragic piece of the puzzle. The Haitian people are some of the most resilient I’ve ever met. Most of them lead incredibly tough lives. Their own government has all but abandoned them. They have been deprived of so much that we take for granted. I think it was only natural for people to loot. Most Haitians live on less than $1US per day. They saw a chance to gain possessions that most of them would never otherwise be able to afford. I’m not saying it was right or okay to loot, I’m just saying that I understand why there were doing it.

Anything to add?
Something else worth noting – Our fixer was on the roof with the group of photographers after Fabienne had been shot. The police were still shooting and someone had the forethought to ask our fixer to yell to the police that journalists were on the roof and not to fire in that direction any longer. I look back on it and realize how important that was. Some of us automatically think we are excluded from danger in a situation like that but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not saying we didn’t make any mistakes that day, but I want to emphasize how important it is to go into a situation like that as prepared as possible.

Cherisma or Geichmar?
[For the Adjustment Layer interview] I failed to include Fabienne’s name in my description of events. I cannot 100% guarantee the accuracy of the spelling of the name as I have seen it differently elsewhere. My caption information for my photos with the info our fixer provided for us (he had a pen and paper and was talking to family members) is as follows:

“Fabienne Geichmar, 15, was fatally shot by a stray bullet while looting from a store on Rue Marthely Seiee in the LaVille section of Port au Prince. Violence and looting have been commonplace in downtown Port au Prince since shortly after the earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital.”

I’m not sure why I wrote that it was a stray bullet… I think because that’s what I wanted to believe and also because I could not confirm that police had shot her.

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Edward will be in Haiti a second time from the 18th to 26th March.

View Linsmier’s images from his first stint in Haiti.

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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 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 Fifteen: Conclusions

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