→ September 2005 Contents → Dispatches
"Dispatches" this month is dedicated to the experience of covering Hurricane Katrina. Stories by photographers at the scene in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as that of the director of photography at the Dallas Morning News, contain extraordinary testimony of the ferocity of the storm and the perseverance of the photographers on the ground.
When the story broke, I was in Perpignon, France, along with our publisher, Dirck Halstead. Ironically, being so far from home was not a disadvantage. The Digital Journalist shared space with The Digital Railroad (a remarkable site, by the way) at Visa Pour l'Image. One floor of the Palais des Congrés was set aside for photo agencies and fellow travelers.
Maria Mann of Corbis was the first to say, "You must see these pictures." Moving from Corbis to Polaris to World Picture News, I could see the first images transmitted to the agencies. J.P. Pappis of Polaris was very helpful in understanding the process that was evolving. Seamus Conlin, head of World Picture News, made sure I had access to everything they had.
I was not alone - agency personnel who were in Perpignon to meet photographers and other colleagues were suddenly thrust into hard news without benefit of a Catalonian seafood appetizer.
Some people were sent back to the States to handle that end of the emergency. Others stayed and shared the wealth of the incoming images. The Digital Journalist has benefited from their unstinting generosity.
Each of the dispatches this month echoes and adds to the others. Conditions deteriorated and photographers shared the brunt of the hurricane with coastal residents.
Jim Reed was a great find for me (thanks to Corbis). He is known as a storm chaser, which makes him sound like an idiot out for thrills. His track record and continuing work with notable scientists, however, put him in an entirely different category. Photojournalists, such as Vincent Laforet of The New York Times, outline the difficulties, hazards and feelings of helplessness encountered by photographers.
William Snyder and the Dallas Morning News deserve kudos for the engaging photographs produced. All contributors show the necessity of good writers and great editors who participate in the process of photojournalism.
Looking over all contributions to the evolving story of Hurricane Katrina, I am once again awed by the power of the event and struck by the risks photographers take. It strikes me that there are some similarities to war photography. As Jim Reed noted bluntly in one of our conversations, "You will get killed if you're not experienced or prepared." These are sobering and necessary words of caution to young photographers drawn by the romance of thundering nature.
I am staggered by what these "first responders" of photography lived through and hope that their lives are not torn apart by the experience.
Keep safe everyone.
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