The Digital Journalist
© David Leeson

Gulf War Oil Fires. Kuwait

This is a photo of the "one that got away." I am consoled only in the knowledge that it "got away" from us all. It is arguably one of my favorite images from the first Gulf War. Iraqi troops huddle together waving a white flag as they trudge across the desert to surrender to troops with the First Marine Division. I was in the back of a humvee trying to make images, the sun was already past the horizon and I was shooting at a slow shutter speed, given that I was using a 105mm lens and bumping around like a wake boarder.

Restrictions placed on the news media during the first Gulf War in the early '90s would have been hilarious in any other situation. If the public affairs officer didn't want a photo made he would cite security as a reason. More often, they never stopped moving and kept you as far from the story as possible. When I returned, people asked what it was like being there. I replied, "I was in the war and never saw it."

But there was an even larger story happening. I saw it then and remember it now as the one story never told. At least, never told as it truly was; the oil fires which darkened the skies in the background of this image. I have never experienced anything like it before. It could be mid-day and if the winds changed direction the thick black smoke turned day to night. Then the rains would come - due to some atmospheric disturbance - and it would literally rain oil.

I never saw a story that told the full story of the environmental disaster caused by Iraqi troops sabotaging the Kuwait oil field. That's a shame and will always be the story I missed.