Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks has spent the last 10 days covering the fighting in Gaza City, and its aftermath. This morning, the Staples High School graduate shared his thoughts on the Times’ “Lens” blog.
Here are a few excerpts:
I arrived in Gaza City on the 16th and right away it was clear that this wasn’t going to be resolved overnight. Bombs were being dropped by Israeli aircraft and there was a lot of tension on the street. Normally, it is quite busy in Gaza City and it takes time to get from place to place. But there were no traffic jams and the streets were mostly empty.
The bombing was constant and unrelenting. Most of it was concentrated overnight and in the early morning hours, though the bombing went on all day as well. Generally, it was heavier in the evening and early morning hours….
The last time I covered a conflict involving Israel here was in 2009 and at that time I was working in the south, in Rafah. Gaza City is a much more urban environment.
What was interesting to me is how deserted the city was. People really were afraid to go out. And for that matter the Hamas fighters were staying out of sight. The Israeli technology is very good at being able to spot people, and they had aircraft drones overhead that could be heard at all times and they’re able to react very quickly. It would have been very dangerous for any Hamas fighter to show themselves in public….
(There’s) nothing you can do to 100 percent protect yourself. You hope that the Israelis are using their surveillance and intelligence to not attack journalists, although in the final days of the conflict two local journalists were killed while driving their car. There’s always that possibility that driving around in the wrong place can be dangerous. This is especially true in military areas or Hamas areas that are going to be clear targets….
When you arrive on the scene shortly after an attack, there’s no assurance that there aren’t more attacks coming. The wise thing to do is to work quickly and then move on. You can’t drive around aimlessly looking for something to take pictures of. You have to be more calculated….
Sometimes you would actually see the strike happen, see the smoke rise and go based off of that. For the most part, you rely on your translator to know what’s going on. The most important thing in working in a place like this is to work with somebody who is plugged into what going on.
In Gaza things are broadcast on the radio almost immediately. So if something happens it’s almost a live feed where they say what’s happened and if there are people hurt. Here it’s a very reliable and fast way to learn what’s happening….
My job is to document in the most simple way possible and the most straightforward way possible the news that’s happening in front of me.
Gaza is a place where there’s a lot going on and where the conflict is very accessible. There’s nothing between the photographer and the events that happen. There are no police who are going to tell you not to take a picture, not to go to a place that’s been hit. This is actually pretty unusual. In a lot of places, when you arrive on the scene there’s a police cordon keeping the photographer at a distance. Here, for the most part, that doesn’t exist. You have access to what’s going on. That allows the pictures to be real because you can simply go up to what’s happened and take pictures freely. There’s not a lot between you and the reality of what’s happening.
There’s a very deep seated understanding among the people in Gaza that we’re here to make a document of what happening. Even in some of the most difficult moments of their lives people are still welcoming. It always is surprising to me how accepting people can be, given their circumstance….
There’s definitely no parallels between being embedded in a place like Afghanistan and working in Gaza where you work much more freely. But at the same time you give up a lot of the things that go along with being embedded. There’s a certain level of safety and support and communication that is built into the embed system. When you’re working in a place like this, or Libya, or Syria you rely solely on the local infrastructure to help you when something bad happens. And sometimes it’s not accessible or the standard is not very high….
When you connect a human face to a tragedy it is the saddest thing. It’s not only the visual aspect of it but being there among the smells and the sounds is something that on a personal level makes the reality of these conflicts and the loss really sink in.
Photographs are removed from the live event. This is a document that’s permanent, but the live event is personally what affects you the most. To understand the suffering and what people go through in these places….
The photographs are, to me, my diary. I always remember these things and it’s good to remember them. They trigger all kinds of memories of the place and time that I made them. And that’s a good thing, to be reminded of these things and to learn from them.