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PART FOUR 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.

On the 3rd February, Adjustment Layer posted an account by photographer Edward Linsmier. It is the fullest eye-witness account by a photographer of events surrounding Fabienne’s death that I have read.

The account doesn’t name the girl as Fabienne. Her name has been available from different sources for some time.

Also worth noting, Linsmier talks of Nathan Weber, another photographer present. I was not aware Weber was at the scene.

Fabienne Cherisma lies dead after being shot in the head by police. January 19th, 2010. © Edward Linsmier

LINSMIER’S ACCOUNT

Read the full account on Adjustment Layer.

Linsmier opens with the excess necessary to hook the reader, “We heard gunshots and knew we needed to be closer. We processed the thought for a split second and we took off running with our fixer not far behind.” and, “Emboldened by the electricity of the chaos, we advanced further and saw people laying on the ground with police yelling and waving guns in the air and shouting commands.”

Linsmier goes on, “We retreated several steps and waited behind a truck for several seconds until the police were distracted. I saw another photographer up the road and decided that we needed to make a move closer to him so we could make some pictures.”

(One presumes this other photographer is Weber?)

“We followed … 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.”

“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.”

Linsmier returns to see Fabienne’s body, “[I] 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.”

This record of events is interesting because it doesn’t report the bypassers going through Fabienne’s pockets as the Guardian did here.

“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.”

“Just about the time that I figured the pictures were over and we should leave, a frantic man and several others emerged from the crowd. It was the family of the girl. The father hoisted her onto his shoulders and began the journey of bringing his daughter home. The photographers followed. Ordinarily, this would be a scene that hardly anyone could bare to photograph. They were experiencing probably some of the most painful moments of their lives but they knew why we were there. Not once did anyone give a mean look; not once did I hear anyone question why all the photographers were following this family’s grief so intently and so closely. It was part of the story.”

THOUGHTS

The underlining above is mine. It highlights the photographers’ conscious activities. I make no judgments here. Linsmier is aware of the sensitivity of the situation. Like, Mullady, yesterday, Linsmier’s candour should be appreciated.

Photographs are deceiving. I should know that by now. When I began my inquiry into Fabienne’s death, I assumed there was a scarcity of images. I presumed only Grarup and Garcia Rawlins had witnessed and recorded the incident.

It is clear, now, that there was more photography and activity. On the scene, at various points, were six photographers – Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban-Mattei, Edward Linsmier, Michael Mullady, Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Nathan Weber.

I’d like to state that I have no agenda here, I am simply interested in constructing the scene in a wider context. Photographers don’t work in a vacuum and we must demand to turn their images inside out to understand the context in which the images were created.

Mining the conditions of production is a position I have held consistently throughout my writing on Prison Photography. I am a great admirer of Errol Morris’ writings that demystify photography; it is in that spirit I am pursuing this inquiry.

Thanks to Melissa Lyttle for the note on Edward’s interview.

– – –

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 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 Fifteen: Conclusions

PART THREE 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.

Michael Mullady just gave an interview to CALIBER SF, the second half of which reflects upon his recent experience in Haiti.

The image atop the interview is of Fabienne Cherisma, the 15 year old girl shot dead by police in Port-au-Prince. I have talked about the circumstances and the photographing of her death here and here before.

In addition to Garcia-Rawlins, Grarup and Laban-Mattei, I did not know that Mullady had also followed her corpse down the street.

Warning: The image is graphic. It is so close in. I should’ve offered the same caveat in my earlier posts. The more I deconstruct the images of – and pass on information surrounding Fabienne’s death – the more I feel like an intruder into a scene that should never have been.

WORDS

Read Mullady’s interview

Mullady talks generally about his career and then moves on to talk frankly about why he went to Haiti (last minute), how he wasn’t prepared for it, and how he now has a commitment to telling the stories of Haitians in the “immediate future”. He offers observations on the social/security fabric of Port-au-Prince.

On Fabienne:

“One day while covering the situation, a young girl was shot just a few feet from where I was standing. People had jumped onto a collapsed building and were running over roofs to get inside stores were merchandise was buried. It was a split decision, but I decided to follow the people to get more intimate images. Putting myself into that situation was possibly something I should have thought more about. In the moment, getting the photograph was all I was thinking about, not my life. That bullet could have been in my head. It was that serious. The cops were not looking at who was in the crowd, they were just shooting. To think I could have lost my life in an instant is terrifying. That day I realized the dangers of working in hostile situations as a journalist and that any day could be your last. When I saw that girl laying on the ground and the agony on her families face, I thought about my own family and the agony I put them through every time I leave the country to work. I never want my parents to have to go through losing there only son. That situation impacted me very deeply and I have yet to speak to anyone in detail about it, you guys are the first. I will share one of my images from that day with you guys.”

On Jim Nachtwey?!:

“I always admired James Nachtwey. Believe it or not, I actually got to meet him in Haiti. It was surreal to look over one-day and see him working next to me. Wow.  I couldn’t believe it was really him. Everything I had dreamed about and strived towards became real in that moment. He was no longer a golden god in my eyes but a colleague, working to illustrate the same situation I was.”

On the day-to-day situation:

“The way I see things in Haiti is very different then I imagine you guys to see it through the news. Aid is here, but there are so many people in need and not everyone is receiving proper attention. Things have definitely positively progressed, but it’s going to take more time to help everyone in need.”

“Haiti is plagued by corruption. I have witnessed it first-hand, police stealing aid supplies and keeping them for themselves or selling them to wealthy people. This type of thing is a reality in Haiti. I’ve seen it on many occasions.”

“Before the earthquake, Haiti was in a bad situation so after this I fear for their future. Many Haitians whom I’ve spoken with express they want to become and American colony, such as Puerto Rico. Being an American, it’s been difficult to answer those questions for people and even more difficult knowing that if I told them what I really thought, it would not be what they wanted to hear.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Mullady’s candour is to be acknowledged. He could do to turn-down the Nachtwey-worship, though.

After reading the article and seeing the picture, however, I cannot shake his earlier quote:

“Many people believe photojournalists to not be artists and consider other genres of photography to be “art.” What I strive to do is bleed these lines. First and foremost, I would consider myself an artist, a visual artist whose subject matter is humanity. I live for light, obsess over sophisticated compositions and spend as much time as needed to make the exact frame I’m envisioning. A large distinction is that I intend to make images for the world to see, via publications, not images just to hang on a wall.”

Is to “bleed the lines” an incontestable perspective on one’s photojournalism? What happens when one is framing a composition of a murdered teenager? Has this perspective been more common than we’d like to acknowledge in recent images of Haiti?

– – –

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 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 Fifteen: Conclusions

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