Friday, June 8, 2007
Patrick Whelan, Joe Raedle, Justin Sullivan & Spencer Platt - War Photography: From The Field To The Cover
Photojournalists equipped with digital SLRs, laptop computers and satellite modems took pictures that were available to their editors within hours or even minutes
Spencer Platt, Unilateral Photographer
DPP: You weren't attached to the U.S. military when you went into Iraq. How did you get in and get around?
Spencer Platt: As a unilateral, I went in on my own. There weren't a lot of us, compared to the embeds. I simply drove into Iraq the day the war commenced. I wasn't the first unilateral in. I tend to be more cautious; there were some yahoos who even beat the U.S. military over the border of Kuwait into Iraq.
I was with two people from the Chicago Tribune; we had Mitsubishi trucks. Even though we were in separate cars, it was good to have some kind of team. It was tough getting over the border because of these massive berms, and the fact that the Kuwaitis and the U.S. military sure as hell didn't want us going over. They didn't want any unilateral journalists in there.
We snuck in. It was a kind of foggy day and there was tons of sand in the air. We fell behind a British tank. We passed a plywood, spray-painted sign: “Welcome to Iraq.” We followed the tank for a while, then got on the main road and hooked up with some other journalists. It was absolute chaos. The British troops actually welcomed us. The Tribune guys' truck got stuck in the sand and the British troops actually helped push it out. All the military had sort of an inverted V, so we taped this symbol on our trucks. We all wore helmets and chemical suits that were camouflaged so no one was really asking questions.
DPP: What equipment did you go in with?
Platt: I was using two Nikon D1xs, three or four lenses and a Dell Latitude laptop. I used a BGAN to transmit images with an IP modem. It's pretty much what everybody had there. It's a fairly inexpensive transmitting device. You can't speak on them, but you can transmit data. I had an Iridium phone for speaking. I tried to keep my equipment down to a minimum; you never know if you're going to have to abandon ship at any moment.
DPP: What setting did you shoot in?
Platt: I almost always shoot Fine JPEGs.
DPP: How long were you in Iraq?
Platt: I was there for about a month. We sat around Basra and waited for it to fall, living in pretty squalid conditions in the back of our trucks for a couple of weeks. We did trips around southern Iraq. Nobody expected that we'd be on the road so long. Basra is a pretty sophisticated city as Iraq goes. We thought we'd be in the Basra Sheraton in a couple of days. I had to go back a couple of times to Kuwait to get gas and water. The military didn't want to take responsibility for us, so it was always a problem trying to find a secure, safe place to sleep. We had sleeping bags, water. At the end of the day, a group of unilaterals would meet up; there would be about 12 vehicles, so it was a huge target.
Some nights, people would say we were in danger of imminent attack and we'd have to peel out.
There was a lot of mutual suspicion between us and the Iraqis; there was some definite hostility. The area we were in was pacified very quickly, but the people were really desperate; there was very little water and cars were getting broken into. You'd drive down the street and rocks would come flying at you. I think most Iraqis were supportive of what was going on and wanted Saddam out, but they're very independent, proud people, and regardless of how bad Saddam was, there were very few people who enjoyed watching the U.S. military march in.
DPP: Did you make it to Baghdad?
Platt: I arrived in Baghdad a couple of days after the statue of Saddam fell. There wasn't a lot of hostility in Baghdad at the time, but there was a lot of looting going on, and the Marines were cracking down. There were a lot of amazing images to be had from that. It was hectic and fast-paced and really difficult to keep up with. There was a lot of gunfire—it was one of the most intense situations I've ever covered.
We stayed at a hotel called the Swan Lake and transmitted images in from the roof using the BGAN. I'd send about 20 images a day. Each image would take about a minute and a half. Where we were positioned in the Middle East, we had a really great connection with the BGANs. I'd say 90 percent of the press photographers used BGANs. There were a couple of people shooting their Leicas with black-and-white, but this is really the first war that was covered almost exclusively in digital.
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