The text of for this post comes from photographer Edward Linsmier’s blog, Adjustment Layer.
I have also added color photos from the post, “Is this Photo Ethical?” at photographer Erik Kim’s Street Photography blog,
Edward Linsmier’s Story
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. People ran past us as we came to an intersection in a heavily destroyed downtown section of Port au Prince. There were police and shop keepers with guns. People were yelling and some were running with their arms in the air to show they weren’t carrying anything stolen.
More shots rang out and we honed in on the location they were coming from- not far up the block. Looters ran past us carrying anything of value. 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.
Our fixer is translating the commands into English- “Lay on the ground, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You! You! Get down here, lay on the ground!” More shots rang out in the air and the Haitian Police yelled at us to get back as soon as they saw us approaching. 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.
The police let us pass and we began photographing the scene. Tensions cycled. The police let the people up, then eventually left at which point the crowded street began to produce people willing to loot again. Soon lines of people began gathering goods seized from the bowels of the destroyed buildings. We followed the line up 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.
Some people briefly yelled at us not to take their picture but hesitated to stay around long enough to enforce their requests. More gunshots filled the air. We couldn’t tell where they were coming from but they seemed close. My friend and fellow photographer, Nathan Weber looked at me with a blank stare. Then someone ran past our fixer and said something in Creole. Our fixer then yelled to us that someone had been shot where we had just been. We ran maybe 50 yards back and 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. 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.