Wednesday, June 18, 2008

#12 - I Feel the Earth Move

"I feel the earth move under my feet,
I feel the sky tumbling down,
I feel my heart start to trembling,
whenever you're around . . . " - Carole King, Tapestry, 1971

Feeling, trembling, tumbling -- to Carole King, these are signs you're simply falling in love. But while spinning Tapestry on the turntable the other day, I realized she eerily described another strange sensation, something occurring with alarming frequency lately. They can happen anytime, anywhere -- China to Mexico, Reno or San Francisco -- no one or nowhere is protected or safe from them. They last only seconds, but their effects are devastating. They rock the world . . . earthquakes!

My first experience covering an earthquake was in 1985 while living in Houston, Texas. Answering the phone the evening of September 19th, I had no idea an 8.1 magnitude event had hit Mexico City earlier in the day and that I'd be packing my gear and passport to document its destruction. With a population of 18 million and the damage concentrated in a 25 square mile area of the city, an estimated 10,000 people were killed, 50,000 were injured, 250,000 lost their homes, 800 buildings crumbled, and property losses amounted to more than $5 billion. Moreover, communications between the Mexican Capitol and the outside world were interrupted for countless days -- this proved to be the primary reason for my first flight over the border.
Transmitting news-photos from the scene was impossible since all telephone lines in Mexico City were severed. So upon touching the ground, I scrambled to gather all of my agency's processed and edited film to catch a quick return flight back to Houston then print and file the images sooner than our competition. This gamble paid off, we scored big, and my reward was a trip back to the chaos.
Photographing an earthquake days after the tremors stop can be challenging. The immediacy is gone, the victims have been rescued, the clean-up begins -- all that's really left is the rubble. The key is to focus on the basic human hardships that remain: something as simple but serious as a resident's struggle to extract his car from a sunken and tilted parking structure. These kinds of images clearly and graphically illustrate that dilemma.
It may be a stretch to compare love to an earthquake, but take it from me, Carole King details one sure thing about the latter -- you'll feel the earth move under your feet!