Photographing Fabienne

One thing I loved about reading old Life magazines is that they featured deep investigative reports with their evocative photos. It made you feel as if you were there, right at the centre of all the action — and I think this is something that was sadly lost with the demise of magazines like Life or Picture Post. So, this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece of photo-investigative journalism that reminded me of those halcyon days of photojournalism. And it was online.

It is a fifteen-part (and growing) report on death of a young girl named Fabienne Cherisma in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake last year; the fifteen year old girl was shot three times — twice at point blank range — by the Haitian police, who thought she was a looter. No less than fourteen photographers captured the aftermath of Fabienne’s death, making it one of the most poignant images to come out of the Haitian tragedy.

As I have noted before, in such cases, photographers working for big news agencies usually have advantage; the most widely circulated image what that of Carlos Garcia Rawlins, who worked for Reuters. Vivid headwound, flowers that were peeking out from the pictureframe, her pink argyle sweater, and incongruously bright and attire were contrasted clearly against the drab ground and sky in Rawlins’ and many other photographers’ photos.  Soon after the photos were published, when Nathan Weber released the photo below — which showed multiple cameramen pointing their lens at the lifeless body of Fabienne — that hoary old chestnut of a controversy concerning the ethics of disaster photography popped up again.

On Prison Photography, Pete Brook closely followed the controversy and meticulously reconstructed the milieu surrounding her death. He talked to many photographers who were there in a series of compassionate, humane and insightful interviews. Like a detective, he analyses the gradual change of trickling blood and body and picture frame positions between different photographs and photographers to understand the event timeline, and ponders whether it would be possible to determine who fired the fatal shot. Equally interesting is Brook’s continuing coverage of the photographers’ fortunes after Haiti; three — James Oatway, Olivier Laban-Mattei and Fredric Sautereau — were honored for their work in Haiti; two others — Lucas Oleniuk and Paul Hansen — won awards for their photos of Fabienne.

Nathan Weber offered a different perspective
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