A JUNGLE OUT THERE
By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)
Watch yourselves. It’s a jungle out there.”
what the police sergeant used to say to his cops before sending them
out onto the mean streets in the tv series, “Hill Street Blues.”
No one ever said that to me before I started my shift as a newspaper
photographer. Nor did I ever say that to any of the photographers
who worked with me for the few years when I was Night Photo
Editor. Maybe I should have. I dunno. I suppose that news photography,
for the most part, doesn’t hold the inherent dangers of
police work. Nevertheless, there were times. Yes, indeed, there
Especially in recent years. News photographers have been getting
killed and maimed with regularity, covering wars in the middle
east and in central Europe. In this most recent war in Iraq,
photographers and writers stationed in Baghdad were constantly
in harms way,
only from a hostile Iraqi government, but from coalition forces,
as well. A number of them paid the ultimate price. Journalists
were kidnapped by Iraq and held incommunicado for long periods
Journalists embedded with coalition forces suffered casualties
along with the military about whom they were documenting. It
a jungle out there for them.
Most of us can spend our entire journalistic lifetime without
ever having a shot fired anywhere near us. But, that doesn’t
necessarily mean that we don’t face dangers in the jungles
in our own backyards. Sometimes the peril sneaks up on us in
where we would
least expect to confront danger. Ours is not a 9 to 5 desk job
inside of an office. We must go where the stories are at
all times of the day or night and in all kinds of weather conditions.
And, it matters not if you die from wounds suffered in a war
zone or if you die from getting hit by a car covering an accident
on your local expresway. Dead is dead.
got a new Chief Photo Editor, once, who had been an art director
and had no experience on the street. Shortly after he took over,
the staff to a meeting to discuss how we would cover a hurricane
that was going to hit us the next day.
He began by telling us that this was expected to be a major
storm with brutal winds and flooding. Long Island is situated
in the Atlantic
Ocean just east of New York City and we sit a mere few feet
above sea level. We are smack in the
hurricane track and in my lifetime we have experienced numerous
He began by saying, “I expect to ask some of you to place
yourselves in jeopardy in order to get pictures that will show
of this hurricane.”
We looked at each other.
He went on to say. “I want you to take whatever precautions
necessary to protect yourselves, but given the nature of this
storm, I expect to ask some of you to take some risks.”
We looked at each other, again.
“Do you have any questions?”
We each waited for someone else to speak, because there really
was nothing logical to say in the face of such an absurd
Finally I spoke up. “Mike, I don’t know what kind of
heroics you expect of us. Are you thinking of asking us to
lash ourselves to trees down at the shore as the hurricane tide
washes over us?”
No, of course not,” he responded. “But, I might ask someone
to go up in a helicopter during the height of the storm, to get aerials
as the storm lashes Long Island.”
There was a pause and we looked at each other, once more.
Mike,” I said. If you can find a helicopter pilot stupid enough
to fly in a hurricane, you might find one of us stupid enough to
go with him. But, I doubt it.”
The poor guy looked a little taken aback.
You see, Mike,” I explained, “most of us have been
here long enough to have covered at least one or two hurricanes,
of us have covered quite a few. The simple truth is that
just being out there in the middle of a storm like that, puts us
Driving from location to location with torrential rain
lashing at the windshield faster than it can be removed by the
driving hazardous. Then, getting out of the car to shoot
something exposes you to winds of 60 to 100 mph. Trees come crashing
Snapped electrical wires are sparking and sputtering in
the wet streets. Wind blown debris comes hurtling at you and puddles
that become lakes and if you’re down near the ocean, you can’t
always tell which is ocean and which is land. So, what are the other
risks you would ask us to take?”
The next afternoon, when the storm finally blew out to
sea and his staff straggled back into the office, soaked
tales of adventures that were faced, Mike had a better
understanding of some of the risks that news photographers
experience in our
During the racial unrest of the 60’s and 70’s photographers
often wore helmets and the rudimentary flak jackets of the
time while covering the riots that erupted in urban areas. We often found
ourselves pitted between a minority population who distrusted
and police who felt that the media was fomenting all of the
trouble by their presence on the scene. Many of us made our photos from under
cars and trucks while bottles rained down upon us from the
and occasional gunshots rang out of the darkness.
As I stated earlier, sometimes the most benign assignment can
present peril. Not long after Robert Kennedy, the brother
of slain President
John F. Kennedy, was elected to the U.S. Senate from New
York, he paid a visit to a local high school to talk to the students
stood outside on the athletic field to cover his arrival by helicopter.
When his chopper touched down and he
he was thronged by hundreds of eager students. I got some
close-ups of him pressing the flesh with these kids and then managed
to get back out of the crowd as he worked his way through
the school. There was a great shot crying to be made, showing
him surrounded by his young admirers but I needed some elevation.
Long Island, as I explained a few paragraphs ago. It is as
flat as a billiard
a simple thing like that wouldn’t daunt an old,
experienced shooter such as myself. I took my Nikon in
both hands and started to raise them to make the good old “hail
Mary” overhead shot when
suddenly, someone behind me slapped my hands down with
force. I whirled to face my adversary, looking for a reason for
such unseemly behavior.
Behind me stood a uniformed Suffolk County Cop. Before
I could speak, he pointed upward. Just above me, the blades of
the helicopter were
still spinning, even after the engine had been shut down.
I had made the near disastrous error of losing sight of my surroundings
zeal to get a good photo. It wouldn’t have been a
pretty picture had it not been for a very alert cop.
has a reputation for being dangerous and inhospitable. For years,
under various dictators and despots, the people of that impoverished
island have suffered. Secret police and death squads decimated
the population and fear and suspicion were the order of the day
was the atmosphere in which I found myself on one assignment. It
started when a van load of Haitians, probably undocumented aliens,
were killed when the vehicle transporting them to their low paying
jobs at a Long island factory, ran off the road and overturned,
killing most of them. Over the next two weeks, I covered their
paper was doing stories on the hardships that these aliens suffered
when they were alive and working and sending their meager earnings
back to their families in Haiti. Now, with that source of income
gone, what fate awaited the bereaved families?
sent me and a reporter to Haiti to do that story.
prepared me for the grinding poverty and desolation that I found
waiting for me when I arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti. I had
been to many third world countries and I thought that I had seen
poverty. But, all of that paled in comparison with what I found
Caribbean island nation. The infrastructure was so decimated, with
no money to make repairs that roads in the cities were ribbons
of rubble and the roads in the countryside were little more than
goat paths. Garbage and refuse lay moldering at the sides of the
roads, stinking in the semi-tropical heat, waiting for garbage
pick-up that rarely occurred. The rare white
businessman needed to hire body guards to protect him from being
robbed and killed by a desperate population. White faces were targets
for mobs of hungry, needy souls. The hotel where the reporter and
I stayed was a run down Holiday Inn, and had the appearance of
a besieged fortress behind walls and barbed wire. Scores of beggars
wait at the front gate for handouts from the more fortunate denizens
of this inn.
had hired a guide/driver/translator who was a lawyer when he could
get paying clients. Through him we managed to locate some of the
families of the deceased accident victims. It was a difficult assignment,
photographing the grieving widows, most of whom had many small
mouths to feed.
we had some time, I suggested to the reporter that we ask our driver
to take us up the mountains that ringed the city and harbor of
Port au Prince. I wanted to get a photo which would serve as an
overview for the stories that we were developing. Our driver was
hesitant. He said that it might not be safe. Many tourists had
gone up into those mountains, never to be see or heard from, again.
Bandits operated with impunity in that region.
when I pushed the point, he agreed, only if I would promise to
be quick about getting my pictures so that we could be out of there
before dark. That sounded reasonable, so off we went. The road
out of the city soon crumbled into nothingness and for most of
the ride through the countryside, we negotiated rutted paths that
crested ridges so narrow, that I was amazed that a goat could navigate
them much less a car. The reporter looked out of the window and
saw empty space on her side, as the terrain dropped hundreds of
the valley below. She was terrified and cringed in the back seat
as we zig zagged our way up the ridges to the top of the mountain.
turned up one dirt track, near the summit, but our way was blocked
by some fallen trees. Our driver didn't like the look of that and
muttered something as he swung the car around and headed back down.
As we came around a curve, a car blocked our way and three men
were standing by it. Our driver pulled to a stop about 100 feet
away. He got out and ordered us to lock the doors and stay in the
car. He walked over to the group of men and engaged them in conversation.
soon returned and got in the car. "These men say that their car
won't start and if we want to get back down the mountain, we will
have to help them push it to the side of the road. But, they are
not what they seem. I saw a gun in the waist band of one
of them. They are bandits. They saw us come up the road and knew
that white people have money. So, they set this trap and will kill
us all and dump our bodies into one of the ravines."
put the car in gear and telling us to stay low, he whipped the
car into a tight u-turn and headed back up the mountain. He found
a hint of another trail that bypassed the fallen trees and we worked
our way back to town by another route.
that night, I realized how close I had come to being dead in a
situation that I would never have dreamed could happen on an assignment
time I almost ended up as fish food at the bottom of New York Harbor.
had been covering the Islip Garbage Barge story all summer. That
was the barge loaded with Islip's garbage that had been chased
out of a number of Atlantic State ports as well as some in Mexico
and the Bahamas. It was now back in New York Harbor while politicians
and environmentalists tried to hash out a solution.
had a friendly rapport with the captain of the tug that was attached
to the barge and he allowed me to spend a good deal of time on
the tug and barge which gave me a decided advantage over the competition.
they were moored out in the middle of the harbor and I had to charter
a boat to transport me there. I had contracted with a 36 foot sport
fisherman, owned by a dentist and chartered out to wealthy fisherman.
There was a hired captain and deckhand to run the boat. I would
meet them at a marina each day, and they would ferry me to the
hired captain was a young man who was well aware of the responsibility
that he had to the boat and its' owner. Unfortunately, as it turned
out, he didn't feel the same responsibility to the
people who chartered the boat. He was loath to bring his boss's
sport fishing boat too close to the ocean going tug from which
I worked. The tug's outer hull was lined, as were most work boats,
with old rubber tires which cushioned the hulls of the tug and
the craft that they were working, and kept them from getting bashed
or dinged. But, if a nice clean white hull like the sport fisherman,
against those tires, it would leave a nasty looking black blotch
on the pristine paint. While it could be scrubbed off, leaving
no trace, it was a chore that the charter captain preferred to
avoid. So he always approached the tug with great care and made
sure that he left a gap between the hulls as I transferred from
one boat to the other.
this particular day, I had gotten out to the tug in the morning.
The sport fisherman would usually anchor about 1,000 yards away
until I was ready to be picked up. It was a Sunday and I spent
most of the day taking photos of all the curious pleasure craft
that came over to take a look at this strange phenomenon that was
appearing in the news and on tv and was the focus of late night
tv talk shows. Other tugs working the harbor would stop by to chat
with Duffy St. Pierre, the captain of our tug. Ferries would veer
off course to treat their passengers to a closer look. On this
summer Sunday, there was a lot of boat traffic in our vicinity.
Their wakes roiled the water and kicked up a nasty chop.
I was done, I radioed to my chartered boat to be picked up. I gathered
my cameras and gear at the rail as my young charter captain approached
with his usual caution regarding those nasty black tires. When
he got close enough, I passed my camera bags across the gap to
the deckhand. I still had a couple of Nikons hanging around my
neck, one of which had a heavy 250mm auto-focus lens attached.
I stood on the broad railing of the tug, and reached across the
water to grab the railing on the fly bridge of the sports fisherman.
that moment, the wakes of the passing boats rocked the sport fisherman.
The young captain, fearing a black smudge on his owner's
white hull, threw the engines in reverse and backed away, pulling
me off the railing of the tug.
a moment, I dangled there, with my feet swaying in the air and
the weight of the cameras around my neck threatening to break my
grip on the fly bridge rail. I looked down past my feet and all
I saw was open water. If I dropped, either the weight of my cameras
would sink me like a stone, or else I would be crushed between
the two hulls that were bobbing and swaying in the rough chop.
remember hearing Duffy, the tug captain, cursing at the charter
captain to bring his boat back so someone could help me. I hung
on for my life and eventually was able to lift one of my legs high
enough to get a foot aboard the charter boat. With that foothold,
I managed to get myself down into the cockpit as we headed for
was too rattled to raise hell with the idiot who almost cost me
my life, but that was the last trip that I took with him.
When TWA Flight 800 blew up in mid-air off the south shore
of Long Island, I was assigned each day to get out onto
the ocean to cover
operations. After the US Navy and
the FBI took over, the area was pretty much frozen out
media, but, once
in awhile an opportunity arose.
One day, a contact at the Coast Guard station from where
most of the recovery operations emanated, told me that
some of the
could go aboard the Coast Guard’s ocean going tugboat
that was operating in the recovery zone. The problem
was that the tug
drew too much water to come through Shinnecock Inlet
and pick us up at the dock there. So, the Coast Guard
offered to ferry us out
to the tug which would stand a off couple of miles outside
of the inlet. A bunch of us jumped at the chance. Then
out that the ferry would
be one of the Coastie’s semi-rigid inflatable boats.
These were nothing more than large oval inner tubes powered
by two huge
outboard motors. There were no seats other than the one
at the center console where the cox’n drove
the boat. So you kind of have to sit on the inflated
rubber sides of the boat and hold
on for dear life. It’s either that or you squat
on the wooden floor which usually fills with sea water
that sloshes over the low
sides of this contraption. The winds were pretty stiff
out of the southeast and getting worse, we were told.
That meant that the bay
would be choppy, the waves coming through the inlet would
be breaking and the seas in the Atlantic were growing.
Several news crews dropped out.
We were advised to travel light and to keep our camera
equipment protected. I dumped any superfluous equipment
into my car
trunk and stowed one Nikon body, a couple of lenses,
a flash gun and
spare batteries into my canvas Domke Bag. I wrapped some
spare Ektachrome in a plastic baggie and took my place
on the rubber
sides of the
boat. No sooner did we clear the Coast Guard dock than
I realized that the young cowboys who drove these light
two speeds; stopped at the dock and bat out of hell.
There was nothing in between. I gripped the straps of the Domke
Bag at my feet with one hand, and held onto the lifeline
the edges of the rubber boat with my other, as the spray
from the choppy water pelted us and soon had us soaked.
flew from the top of one wave to the back of the next
and as the propellers
of the twin outboards left the dense water and entered
the less resistant atmosphere of the air, the engines
roar like airplane
engines as they tried to get us even more airborne than
we already were.
Each time we hit the next wave, we would crash into it
with a force that jarred the fillings in my teeth and
would threaten to throw those of us sitting on the
into the water. I had spent four years in the Navy, many
and I recalled a lesson learned in Boot Camp. The Navy
expected each sailor to give one hand to the ship and
one hand to
yourself. The “yourself” hand
was meant to hold onto a mast or a spar or a halyard
to keep from falling, while the “ship’s” hand
was used to untie knots, unfurl sails, or whatever. As
we bounced through the bay,
I found that I needed two “yourself” hands
to keep from being pitched out of the boat. I ended up
holding onto the lifeline
with both hands and I wedged my camera bag between my
My heart sank when we neared the inlet. I had been in
and out of Shinnecock Inlet many times. But, never had
breaking seas coming through the gap like those I saw
this day. I quickly
gave up any thought of sitting on the rubber side of
the boat. I squatted on the wet floorboards and hung
onto the lifelines
my camera bag between my knees.
Hang on!” shouted the cox’n as he took aim and shot our
little craft into the maelstrom. One minute I would be looking at
the angry black water of a huge wave careening down upon us. Then
I would be looking at the scudding clouds overhead. Water poured
over us from all sides and I gave up even worrying about my cameras
as they bounced on the wooden floor which was now ankle deep in water.
The cox’n never let up on the throttle and we pounded through
the inlet into the open Atlantic.
I glanced over at my associates, for a moment. They were
all huddled on the floor, soaked through and white as
of the video
crews contained a pretty female reporter whose carefully
coiffed hairdo hung over her face in wet streams as she
puked her breakfast
over the side.
After what seemed like days, we finally spotted the gray
hulk of our tug through the mist. We came alongside on
the lee side and for a moment, gave thanks to be out
of the wind and waves.
Transferring from the bobbing inflatable to the larger
tug, however, was another harrowing experience. We handed
cameras and equipment
to the sailors on the tug and then we had to time our
leap onto the larger boat when both of our craft were
with one another.
When we were all safely aboard, the crew of the inflatable
gave us a wave and sped off in the direction of their
dock while our
got underway to the recovery zone. Even being aboard
the larger boat, we were aware of the motion of the ocean
picked up and
the seas grew larger. But, it was nowhere near what we
had just experienced. Even the seasick young tv reporter
some color back
into her face.
My cameras managed to make the trip unscathed, except
for the wet canvas at the bottom of the camera bag. The
as fortunate. They spent the next three hours drying
out their cameras in an effort to get the “moisture” warning
light to go out. One cameraman
managed to locate an electric hair dryer among the ship's
crew and made better progress than his hapless associate.
The fact of the matter was that it really didn’t matter because
the Navy wouldn’t let us get close enough to the recovery operation
to make any useful images. Then the weather got so bad that recovery
operations were suspended. That’s when we found out that the
seas were too rough to attempt to transfer us “newsies” back
into the rubber boats for the trip home, so we had to steam to Staten
Island where we got off the tug and had to take expensive cab rides
back to Long Island to get our cars.
When I finally crawled into bed at 2 AM, and I recalled
the details of the day, I had to ask "why?" Why had I
to the risk
and discomforts. I mulled over the realization that I
was then almost 60.
What the Hell was I thinking? I made a silent promise
that next time, I would say no.
But, like all newspukes, it was a promise that would
never be kept.