Tag Archives: Front Pages

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph from Sandy Hook

At 9:59 last Friday morning, Shannon Hicks pulled her 2006 Jeep Wrangler off the road just outside Sandy Hook Elementary school. As associate editor and photographer for Newtown, Connecticuts local paper, The Newtown Bee, she was responding to a radio dispatch heard over a local police scanner.

I thought it was going to be a false alarm, Hicks tells TIME, remembering the call last week. Gunshots fired inside an elementary school? No. seo marketing . Excellent SEO service . Not here, she thought.

But as she pulled up to the school, what she saw and heard removed all doubt.

The New York Times/Newseum

Parents just started yelling their childrens names, remembers Hicks, careful to grab her camera off the passenger seat as she climbed out of her vehicle and into the chaos of the scene.

The screams echoed loudly as Hicks tried to stay focused, composing each image though the eyepiece of her camera. She remembers watching a state trooper drive past her, get out of his vehicle, don his flak jacket, and announce to the panicked crowd that the scene was not secure.

She snapped frames of police and emergency personnel rushing to the school as well as of anxious parents already on scene pressed against police barriers, straining to see if their children had emerged from the building. Among armed police officers and weeping parents, she kept watch, diligently clicking the shutter.

At 10:09 am, 10 minutes after she climbed out of her vehicle, she snapped the shutter on an elementary school class being led out of the school by two Connecticut State Police officers.

I knew that, coming out of the building as terrified as they were those children were safe, Hicks said, of the photograph soon to grace the front pages of newspapers, magazines, and nearly every breaking news website around the world. I just felt that it was an important moment.

The picture wasnt sensational or disturbing, said Hicks, but it captured a feeling at least for the subjects and their families of relative safety amidst a maelstrom of fear and the harrowing unknown.

Los Angeles Times/Newseum

For the children freed from the school, parents rushed to their side, sweeping them up in firm embraces as they walked the 1100 feet to the nearby fire station. Hicks, camera in hand, followed them every step.

Ive heard from a few adults who anonymously called us [at The Newton Bee], and said it was very, very wrong to publish that one photograph. Hicks said, But Ive also had people come up to me mothers in particular whove said that the photograph was important because it showed that those children were safe.

By 11:30 that morning, Hicks, who is also a volunteer firefighter in Newtown, had passed the baton to another reporter from the paper, and had returned to the Bees office to coordinate the coverage.

There, for the next week, the small editorial staff would pull near-24 hour shifts, updating the website the paper is published weekly with news, community response and the obituaries of the 27 victims left in Fridays wake.

As a journalist, Hicks is proud to have documented the event, but issues caution to many media outlets now trolling the grounds in Newtown.

There are different levels of journalism out there, and ours [at The Bee] is not to follow people when they go to the funeral home, or the cemetery. We dont go knocking on the doors of victims of anything, said Hicks. Its very hard for us to watch other journalists do this to our neighbors.

Regarding her photographs popularity for lack of a better term Hicks said it came as a surprise and brings little personal relief. It is the cache of photographs buried on her cameras memory card, she said, that are hardest to look at and impossible to forget.

Im sure I will look through them someday, Hicks said, cognizant that the photographs she took that morning are now part of history.I just kind of wish that there were some that I could erase from my memory.”

Chasing the Texas Tornado

Talk about a whirlwind day. Yesterday started out like any other for Dallas native Parrish Ruiz de Velasco. The 21-year-old freelance graphic designer and photographer was headed to work on a carpentry job in Ovilla, Texas, when he decided to ignore his GPS.

“As soon as I saw the swirling clouds, I knew it was going to be something cool. I went ahead and took the left turn instead of the right turn, just to chase it down and see if it turned into anything,” he says. “It ended up being a pretty big tornado that unfortunately messed up a lot of peoples’ homes.”

Ruiz de Velasco followed the storm for what he estimates to be about 15 miles, up I-35 toward Route 20, getting in front of the storm, before he did a u-turn. As always, he had his camera with him. He took a photo.

He didn’t end up making it to work. After submitting his picture to the Dallas Morning News via the paper’s website, the young photographer was called into the office, where he would spend the rest of the evening dealing with requests for the image. By the next day, the picture would have appeared on the front pages of 17 newspapers from the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post to papers in Montreal and Buenos Aires—and it will appear this coming week in TIME.

“They were pretty mad at me,” he says of his carpentry employers, to whom he had to make excuses on the day of the storm, “until this morning when they saw the newspaper.”

Ruiz de Velasco had never experienced a tornado before—and his home and family made it through yesterday unscathed—but he says he wasn’t scared, just excited, an excitement that persists even now that the weather in Texas is sunny and clear.

“It was pretty stupid. I had a lot of adrenaline going on,” he says. “It’s the crazy power of nature. I really wanted to capture that.”

More: Tornadoes Rip Through Dallas-Fort Worth Area

Parrish Ruiz de Velasco is a Dallas-based photographer and designer. Check out his Facebook page here.

Nika’s Journey Growing Up With HIV

After the deadly intensity of the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the young generations of the 1980′s and early 1990′s comes a time of transition where AIDS has slipped from the front pages of the news and our consciousness. Yet for many, AIDS and HIV is still very real and part of their everyday existence. Dutch photographer Ilse Frech began “Nika. Russia LOVE” in 2005 to explore the life of a young woman affected by the disease along with all the complications of becoming an adult.

Nika is not a traditional photo documentary project. It’s more of a contemplation of a young woman’s life or a lucid conversion about mortality. The photos lead you through the photographer’s personal impressions of trying to understand her subject and herself. Ilse Frech says, “My interests always had been focused on finding stories taken from daily life, where people play an important role and find themselves in often marginal situations of society.” After working in Russia on a story about HIV-positive orphans for a Dutch newspaper, she began to want to work with young adults who were also positive for the disease. In 2005, she returned to Russia and contacted a group called ‘COPLHA’ –  ‘Community of People Living with Aids’ which helped young people through drug rehab and adjusting to life with the disease. “I realized that being HIV forced a person into isolation,” the photographer said.

Eventually a contact at the organization introduced her to Nika. “They said she’s 25, stubborn, pigheaded even,” Frech recalls. “No need to be afraid of her strong character, I think she will love your project, and I think it will be exactly what she would like to participate in.” The introduction lead to three years of intense collaboration and a relationship that continues. “I guess our encounter is what one calls destiny,” Frech says. “In this metropolis, where millions of people pass each other on a daily basis, on their way to work or to wherever it is they’re heading to, this young woman was presented to me and became very important for the years to come.”

When Frech asked Nika how she contracted HIV, “she had told me that she got it from someone else, which is obvious, but she couldn’t recall how it had happened—either through a needle or sex.” Nika said, “ I never used condoms and when I found out, I never even heard of HIV. They told me I would die within two years time. All I did was cry as soon as I thought of the idea of dying. On the other hand it gave me all the more reason to just continue my self-destructive life-style. So I kept on using drugs, sharing needles, having sex without any sort of protection, for I was so afraid, I couldn’t talk about it or even accept it.” Nika eventually joined a rehab program and slowly began to rebuild her life.

With such an open subject, Frech fully immersed herself into the young woman’s life and began recording her most intimate relationships with friends and lovers. In the beginning, Frech says, “she gave the impression she received photographers on a daily basis in her apartment. And actually, this attitude never changed.”

Nika’s story of self discovery is complicated and she provides full disclosure to the photographer. When describing the time when she first knew she was HIV-positive, Nika told Frech, loving a young man at that time—with whom she lived together—she didn’t dare to tell him she found out she was HIV positive. “Meaning that she was conscious of passing it to him, but being afraid of losing him or being left on her own, she couldn’t find the courage to either tell him or to stop the relationship,” Frech says. “She’s come to peace with it now, and is convinced of living a miracle since she almost died, while doing drugs, on two occasions.”

During this time the photographer had her own moment of tragedy. Her brother committed suicide, and in that time, she had a realization about the project. “As much as I wanted to portray young Russian adults with HIV and AIDS in their intimate environment, showing their struggles, in life, love, and sadness, the project reflected my own struggle,” Frech says. “I made endless amounts of photographs—working non-stop to show these young adults who had overcome their own struggle.” Frech felt she needed to find the answer to the question, ‘How come someone doesn’t want to live anymore?’ which was parallel to finding the answer to ‘What makes someone actually say yes to life?’ As Nika shared her own stories, their bond grew and the relationship between documentarian and subject became ambiguous and more personal.

“Between Nika and myself there were no professional boundaries because of our intimate relationship and a mutual deep understanding of each others history,” Frech says. “We were fond of each other, as we had shared so many intense days and nights together, talking, laughing, crying, traveling, that she became precious to me and I felt a deep respect for her. She made me understand that life was not only about the fear of loosing someone, but she showed me the very opposite—that you can find the inner-strength to endure whatever is thrown upon your path.”

In 2007, Nika confessed to Frech on several occasions that because she chose to photograph her and to talk and listen to her, over many other people to choose from, it had made her feel special. Frech says, “It was as if I threw her a mirror and through that mirror she got to appreciate herself more and more. As if she was able to look at herself from a distance, she then started to accept that she was a special person and because of her own acknowledgement she then could love herself.”

In one of their last conversations during the making of the project in September 2007, Frech recorded a video while sitting in a cab as the two were saying goodbye. She says, “It was strange for the both of us, since we had become so close. Her last words addressed to the world, looking into the lens were, ‘I don’t know who Nika is really. Nika is someone who discovers who she is, day by day. So, I still have to see what will become of me. And then for now, goodbye!’”

Frech says, “In its essence, my work is about the personal stories of people where wanting ‘to be loved and to love’ prevents us from being devoured by illness, or emotions that steer us towards self-destruction.”

Nika stopped using drugs nine years ago and still lives in Moscow. She’s doing well and taking it day by day. In one very moving part towards the end of Frech’s film on Nika, she looks at the camera with confidence and says, “I am Nika and I am HIV positive.”

Ilse Frech was chosen this year to participate in the PhotoStories Masterclass in Groningen, The Netherlands, to finish the video portion of Nika. The final work was recently shown at Norderlict 2011. You can see the final video and more of Frech’s work here. She eventually hopes to finish the project in a book this year.

emphas.is launches


There is a lot of talk about photojournalism. Is it dead? What’s going on? What can be done? I think recent events in the Middle East should have made it very clear even to the naysayers that we need credible photojournalism. Of course, there is much more to photojournalism than going to places where things are happening very visibly. There also is the kind of photojournalism where someone explores a subject that’s not on the front pages, to inform us about something we might want to know about. Needless to say, the big problem is money. Who will actually pay for the it? A new attempt to fund photojournalism has just been launched, in the form of emphas.is, a website dedicated to crowd-funding photojournalism. I do not know whether emphas.is is the – or maybe even just a – solution to fund photojournalism. But I believe it has tremendous promise. I decided to feature some of the projects here on this site to help spread the word. One of the first projects featured is Aaron Huey‘s Pine Ridge Billboard Project. Find Aaron’s pitch here.