|ITíS PROBABLY SOME KIND of "Stockholm Syndrome" thing Ė the captive
coming to love and identify with their captor Ė but Iíve become obsessed
with the Reuters pipeline feeding photos to my desktop at work. Iím chained
to Reuters all day, as it unfailingly, implacably Ė except for a "dinner
break" of about an hour around 7pm every day Ė feeds me photos from every
notable hotspot and flashpoint around the world.
A couple of hours ago, a new photo popped up, a slightly blurred
shopping mall photo studio portrait of a little girl with a gap in her
teeth. I click on the image, read the cutline info at the bottom, then
shout across the room to our world editor: "Fermin? Van Dam. Itís confirmed.
Colour headshot?" Fermin nods yes, and I drag the photo of the little girl
Ė apparently kidnapped by a neighbour and now found dead, her body "partially
burned", in a stand of trees by a roadside near San Diego Ė to the folder
on the top right-hand side of my screen. A minute later, I open it up in
Photoshop, run it through the usual gauntlet of digital modifications,
and send it off into the bin.
Somewhere on the other side of the continent, in some living room
in some formerly normal house, some kind of awful grief is nearly killing
someone. In hundreds of newsrooms around the world, the same grief is being
processed with only the merest hint of empathy. Just doing my job, maíam.
LETíS LOOK AT THE NEWS TODAY. Weíve got the NBA and Kournikova at
the Mexican Open, and shots of the San Diego police chief doing a press
conference on the Van Damís lawn. There are some Cuban police outside the
Mexican embassy in Havana, where 21 men have barricaded themselves after
driving a bus through the compoundís gates. Further down the page, there's
a picture of Fidel, in his shiny, pressed fatigues, looking concerned.
Colombia has been the source of hundreds of photos in the last month
or two, where the civil war between the government and FARC has reached
some kind of apex. Yesterday, the government rolled out some kind of "mascot"
Ė an inflatable cartoon doll of a soldier, more than life-size, in fatigues
and forage cap, a real soldier inside animating this obscenity. Itís supposed
to rally the support of villagers away from FARC. I canít imagine what
they were thinking.
I doubt if we've run more than one or two photos from Colombia in
the two months I've been here. It's the same at every paper; something's
going on there, something terrible, perhaps, but there's always Afghanistan
or Palestine or some murder somewhere to keep it from playing bigger than
Thereís been a train crash in Lincolnshire, and a runway show of
Dolce & Gabbanaís fall line in Milan. More masked men with guns and
rocks in Palestine. I doubt if a day goes by without a score of shots from
Jerusalem, Gaza, Hebron, or the West Bank. I wonder how long itís been
since a day passed without a photo slugged "MIDEAST". The Peruvian fisheries
minister has launched a campaign promoting ceviche. Mmm, ceviche.
The N.Y. police who were convicted of sodomizing Abner Louima with
a broom handle have had their convictions overturned. Now is a good time
to be a N.Y. cop, straight or crooked. Hamid Karzai, the interim president
of Afghanistan, is in France. I have a running bet with Fermin on how long
itíll be till heís killed. Itís an idle thing, and while neither of us
want the man dead, weíre just indulging our cynicism about the Afghani
government. I suppose Iíll feel vindicated Ė in some bitter, self-loathing
way Ė if and when the man dies.
NEWSPAPER PEOPLE ARE NOTORIOUS, at least in the movies, for cultivating
a casual heartlessness about human suffering, a witless fatalism that allows
them to act unsurprised by anything but the most awful of tragedies. Itís
probably only a middling exaggeration of the truth. Any particular sensitivity
to horror or disaster would be a liability, and thereís too much work to
get done to start coming over all appalled when some new nightmare comes
down the wire.
Just the other day, we got in some particularly gruesome airline
crash photos, body parts and chunks of fuselage strewn over some mountainside
in South America. (Argentina? Venezuela? My God, Iíve already forgotten.)
At that dayís editorial meeting, I extended an open invitation to anyone
who wanted to stop by my desk to take a look, since it was unlikely theyíd
see print in any magazine or newspaper on this side of the Atlantic. Probably
half the office took me up on my offer, an exercise in hardening the calluses,
so to speak.
BRITNEYíS NEW VIDEOGAME. Software bootleggers in Iraq. Protesters
banging pots and pans in the streets. That must be Argentina. No Ė Lebanon.
came out of left field. Riots in India, revenge killings for the train
arson two days ago. Fermin and I are actually worried about this one. I
have a vision of coming in one afternoon to look at photos of nuclear aftermath
in Delhi, Karachi, Kashmir. No matter, move on.
Great shots of a hermit discovered in the mountains of Bosnia. Ilija
Panincic hid out in the hills, and hasnít seen another human for six years;
he didnít know the war was over until this week. Whoever took these Ė the
credit says Damir Sagolj Ė knows what heís doing. Lovely, moody portraits
in the hermitís hut, and a couple of hilarious shots of the man getting
a haircut from a NATO peacekeeper, with a local music teacher playing a
trumpet in the background. They look like stills from a Tito-era Yugoslav
black comedy. I nudge the resemblance a step further by processing one
in black and white. Nice work.
A Basque bombing, the Pope and the Polish president, and a photo
of the latest Palestinian suicide bomber. A woman. I guess Hamas, or Hezbollah,
or Fatah, or whomever, has decided to let women die for the intifada.
There was a quite sound rumour that the first one Ė the young nurse who
blew herself up a few weeks ago Ė was an accident. This one isnít. Oh well,
move on. There'll be more.
NATO tried to arrest Radovan Karadzic, but he got away. Iíll have
to keep an eye on that one. More riot shots from India. Nestle announcing
a good year in earnings, and some old shots of Nixon. Nixon? His presidential
library is releasing 500 hours of tapes today. I have a soft spot for Nixon
Ė well, an obsession, really. I save a shot or two for myself. I could
have fun playing around with them in Photoshop.
Roger Waters playing a concert in Cape Town. A New Zealand hospital
admitting that they harvested over 1300 hearts from infants over 50 years.
Black humour Ė theyíre offering to return them. Amazing. Jiang Zemin in
Vietnam. The Queen drinking champagne. PETA protesters in leopard-spot
body paint and gings protesting in Trafalgar Square. Grammy leftovers
from last night.
THE FLOW DRIED UP a week or two ago. We get our Reuters feed from
a satellite dish on the roof, but somewhere along the line a train crash
Ė in Ohio, apparently; that really doesn't sound very high-tech,
does it? Ė cut some fibre optic link in the chain and the torrent stopped
with a shot of refugees Ė illegal workers trying to get home for the new
year festivities Ė pouring out of a truck at some Chinese border post.
It was fixed, but a few days later, our server crashed, and plugged the
pipeline again. I was anxious, denied my full menu of raw news for days,
until our sysadmin came back from his long weekend to start the river flowing
IíVE BEEN HAVING DREAMS, Reuters dreams: daisy chains of photos flowing
together with a profound, suggestive logic. I donít try to make sense of
them, much as I donít try to divine logic in each dayís indiscriminate
core dump of war, photo ops, and inadvertent black humour. Itís not my
job. Iím just the guy at the end of the pipeline.