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PART NINE 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.

Nathan Weber was in Haiti  from January 14th to January 21st.

Fabienne was shot at approximately 4pm. What had you photographed earlier that day?
Prior to being in the area where Fabienne was shot we had been searching for the mass graves and visiting the port area. We walked from the port area through one of the markets to investigate looting. It was there on the street Rue Marthely Seiee that everything went down.

Once we made it down the streets we came to this area (a ghetto, as it was explained to me) where a large number of people were coming down the street at a fast pace. At that point we heard gun shots and proceeded 1.5 blocks in the direction of the gun fire where several police were standing at an intersection. From that intersection, I could see more police trying to disperse looters and we headed to a destroyed structure.

The structure’s roof acted as a ramp that people used to gain access to other rooftops in order to scavenge and take anything they could carry. After a few minutes we decided to climb up and onto that collapsed building to make pictures from a different angel and see just what was up there. Roughly 15 to 20 minutes passed and when most of the police headed away from the collapsed building used to access rooftops to arrest some people around the corner. For whatever reason I didn’t follow and stayed put on the roof.

Did you see Fabienne get shot?
I remember looking down on the street and there was a lone officer pointing his pistol up into the air in my general direction. I don’t remember hearing a gun shot but out of the corner of my eye probably 15 to 20 feet away I saw a girl fall. The roof I was standing on was somewhat steep, slippery and was covered with small granular pieces of concrete. At first I thought she had slipped and knocked herself unconscious as I had seen others fall and didn’t think much about it until I went over to check on her. To my disbelief I realized she wasn’t breathing and I discovered a large head wound. At that point my fixer was yelling for me come down from the roof as things were heating up down the street. I looked and him, gave a hand signal indicating that something very bad had just happened and stayed put. Within a couple of minutes several photographers were upon the rooftop and shooting the scene of Fabienne’s body.

How long was it until her family and father arrived to carry away Fabienne’s corpse?
It wasn’t very long maybe 20 minutes at the most before word spread to Fabienne’s family and her father arrived on scene.

How many other photographers did you see at the scene? Do you know the photographers’ names?
The picture below shows that scene where all the photographers in the area ascended. The only photographers I know in this picture are Ed Linsmier and Michael Mullady. I think there was only one other American journalist there and everyone else was from Norway, Mexico, France, etc.

© Nathan Weber

How was the atmosphere?
The atmosphere was pretty intense. This is the most high emotion environment I have ever been in. At one point I felt that we all needed to back off and stop shooting. I thought that the pictures have been made and stepping away from the scene was in order. I also gave thought to heading back to the hotel and transmitting my images. Until this point there hadn’t been a youth death involved in looting and I knew that I would be an important news story. I am so glad I didn’t leave and I waited to see what would happen.

How did others behave?
Everyone of the photographers on the scene were very professional. We all worked together to document the situation and did our best not to add or take away from the environment. Basically, we all acted within the Society of Professional Journalists (SP&J) ethics and guidelines.

Did you discuss the tragedy with other photographers?
I didn’t really discuss the tragedy with any of the photographers at the time, or at a later date. I know that for myself being focused on the scene and doing my best to capture what was going there kept me somewhat removed. It wasn’t until being back in the States that I broke down to my girlfriend about Fabienne’s death. It was extremely senseless and there was absolutely no reason for her to have been killed. As I understand this is a common thing in Haiti, and there is very little recourse if any for this type of incident.

How does Fabienne’s death fit in with the visual narratives of Haiti’s earthquake aftermath?
I think Fabienne’s death shows when there are environments that have total chaos, the only thing you can count on is uncertainty. The visual representation here is a snapshot of what people in Haiti are dealing with.

I’m not sure what will become of the images, where they will be used or their legacy. If nothing else maybe our coverage of what happened to Fabienne will show her actions of survival were not in vain.

WEBER’S VIDEO

Nathan Weber has put together footage from before, during and after Fabienne’s shooting. (Content warning) Fabienne’s death is put in the context of the disorder of Port-au-Prince at the time.

Click on the frame below to be taken to Weber’s  footage.

NOTE: Weber’s footage includes images of Fabienne’s dead body upon the roof, her father carrying her down the street away from the scene and the beginning of her family’s mourning. The footage is extremely descriptive. It is graphic in the sense that it shows a dead body. It is not  bloody. It is very emotive.

I know that some people won’t want to see the footage and others will question its distribution. I am providing a link because it was provided to me. It is a accurate indicator of the atmosphere in LaVille on the 19th January, and in that regard a needed piece of evidence in the reconstruction of events.


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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 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 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.

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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 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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