Tyler Hicks: Behind The Story

Last August, the New York Times published a striking Page 1 photo by staff photographer — and Westport native — Tyler Hicks.

The shot showed a starving Somali child, tucked in a fetal position.  Its graphic nature stirred an internet controversy.

In today’s “The Story Behind the Story” — an email feature “exclusively for Times subscribers” — Tyler explains how he took the photo, and why he felt its publication was important.

The worst cases of starvation, Tyler wrote, occurred at a crowded hospital.

That’s where I found the hardest hit, mostly children, some unable to walk or even sit up, others vomiting and all suffering from dysentery.  In the hallway every available surface was used for another sick child.  I’ve seen bad conditions in hospitals, but this was one of the worst.

Swarms of flies infested the mouths and eyes of children too weak to move.  Their parents spent the day swatting the flies away from them and doing whatever else they could to keep them alive.   I photographed a father carrying his lifeless daughter, wrapped in cloth, out of the hospital for burial.

He had to work quickly.  He did.  His shot, he knew, “would give proof of how desperate the situation had become.”

Tyler added:

I enthusiastically support the image chosen for Page 1.  The public reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and a reminder of the impact The Times can generate – not only among our readers, but also among other news media organizations and humanitarian aid groups.

This is an example of the raw, unfiltered definition of news photography.  It doesn’t happen every day, and it might not come your way in the course of a year.

But sometimes you land on a story, a cause, something that has meaning to you, and the resulting photographs have an impact. They are seen and spur reaction.

In a digital age, that’s when you’re reminded of the impact that a still, motionless photograph can have.

3 responses to “Tyler Hicks: Behind The Story

  1. I applaud Tyler’s work as the purest, least tainted, media expression of the world we live in. To receive his commentary a special treat. Surf’s up!

  2. I would love it if someone with his insights would – for his own sake, anonymously – recommend best way to get aid (food, medical, evacuate the most vulnerable, etc.) to the people in this area. ‘Political correctness’ not being s goal; the only goal being to get aid to intended recipients.

  3. Were people upset to see this? Oh, well too bad. In our town, where we spend many, many millions to upgrade schools, and have about 1 restaurant per 100 people, and we worry about if our jeans are just right and our car is just so, let us be reminded that some mothers have to swat flies from their starving children rather than take them to soccer practice after having a quick dinner out. Ack! Thank YOU Tyler.. I love you and your work! And thank you anonymous for cutting to the chase…let’s get these people some aid) (oh, and I think the new schools are wonderful.. !!! too bad they’re not built “green”)