For Photographer, Lebanon a Different Kind of War

Brother and Sister

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itoggle caption Tyler Hicks

New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks has spent the past 2 1/2 weeks in Tyre, Lebanon. Although covering a war story comes with a grave risk, Hicks has been able to get up close to the action, capturing images that are hauntingly intimate. Hicks has covered conflicts across the globe: He explains what's different about this assignment.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

We've seen more chilling images today of death and destruction in the Middle East as the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia is now in its 19th day. Tyler Hicks is a staff photographer for The New York Times. He's been working in the region for the past three weeks and continued to photograph the conflict from Qana today.

On Friday, we spoke with him on the phone from the town of Tyre in southern Lebanon. I asked him how documenting this conflict compared to his previous work in hotspots like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

Mr. TYLER HICKS (Staff Photographer, New York Times): It's interesting. One of the problems that we have experienced in Iraq is these days it's become very difficult for non-Iraqi photographers or non-Arab photographers to work on the street in Iraq because of the problem with the insurgency and the problem with the kidnappings there. So what we're left with is to imbed with the American military, and this mainly involves driving around in armored personnel carriers, kind of waiting for something to happen like a roadside bomb or IED, as they call them.

When I was working in the Balkans or in Africa and other conflicts in the past, you could decide when and where you would go. And I would compare Iraq to Lebanon right now in that traveling on the roads in southern Lebanon, at this time, is extremely dangerous.

ELLIOTT: Yet you've somehow been able to get some very intimate and close-up pictures of how this is affecting people there.

Mr. HICKS: It's really a challenging job these days in Lebanon to do this work. Today, for example, we had our first opportunity to really get to the far south of Lebanon, to a town called Rmeish, and a convoy journalist went down to see the situation there.

Despite the fact that we had notified Israeli authorities that we would be in a convoy going to this location, on our way back one of the journalist vehicles was hit by an Israel artillery, injuring the driver and translator of a TV crew coming on the way back.

ELLIOTT: I'd like to ask you some questions about a couple of the photographs of yours that I have here in front of me. In Thursday's edition of the Times, there's a picture of a man helping another out of the rubble of a bombed building. How long did it take for you to get to this scene?

Mr. HICKS: Well, this attack actually happened directly in the city center of Tyre where we stay in our hotel. We heard a series of explosions, so I jumped in the car with several other journalists, and we went to the scene.

One of the problems with covering these situations is that these attacks often come in succession. In other words, they'll hit a building once, and then, whether its 10 minutes later, an hour later, or several hours later after that, they will hit the building or adjacent buildings again. So generally you try to go, get the pictures and get out before anything else happens.

ELLIOTT: Another photo I have is from Thursday, July 20th, and it's a picture of victims of an Israeli air strike in an ambulance. And there's a girl in this picture who appears to be staring directly at you. How do people react to you photographing them when they're in such obvious distress?

Mr. HICKS: It really varies. Some people seem to have a certain understanding of why we're doing this job and the effects that the media might have. That is rare. Other times, people can become upset, and you have to kind of gauge the comfort level of the person you're photographing.

ELLIOTT: Is there one photo from Lebanon that you've taken that you feel is particularly powerful?

Mr. HICKS: The picture that affected me the most was taken in a hospital. I went to photograph some victims of a recent Israeli air strike, and there was a woman sitting with her brother in the hallway of the hospital. I started to take photographs of her. Her brother was talking to a hospital official about what had happened. Her brother and her sister had both been killed in this attack. And as he explained to the hospital nurse what had happened, she was listening, and her eyes welled up with tears. I continued to take pictures and very suddenly she completely broke down and went into hysterics and her brother grabbed her and she threw her head back and the amount of pain and suffering that suddenly poured out of her was really, really amazing. I mean for me this is the image that shows the suffering that's going on here.

ELLIOTT: Tyler Hicks is a staff photographer for The New York Times. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. HICKS: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You can view a gallery of Tyler Hicks' images from Lebanon. Visit our website at npr.org.

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