Photographer Feels Weight of His Myanmar Images
NOAH ADAMS, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.
In Myanmar, the true number of dead there may never be known, from the cyclone that it hit on the 3rd of May. United Nations says millions of people desperately need aid. The government continues to strictly control the distribution of food and medicine. In tragedies of this nature we often depend on photojournalists for their vivid depictions. Will Baxter of World Pictures Network is one of the few who has made it into Myanmar. His photographs appeared in Newsweek and the New York Times. And today I asked him how his work has been curtailed by the government.
Mr. WILL BAXTER (Photojournalist): Well, the situation has really changed since I first arrived. When I got here on May 5th and for the next two, three or maybe four days after that it was quite easy to work openly. But after that they really started clamping down and so any photographer here really needs to sort of be careful and hide himself somewhat.
It's been a case of sort of jumping in and out of the vehicle and not really spending very much time in one place photographing.
ADAMS: Tell us what you've seen - especially when you went into the Irrawaddy Delta region.
Mr. BAXTER: A lot of homes made of bamboo or thatch or wood have just been blown to the ground. There's also quite a bit of visible death, especially if you get on to like a river or on an inlet. We took a boat up to Peopon(ph) River and in a very short distance we saw about 30 bodies. And there hasn't really been, it seems, much of an effort to clean them up.
ADAMS: When you come upon bodies like that - scenes like that - do you ever as a photojournalist find yourself in a situation where you decide not to take a photograph?
Mr. BAXTER: Yeah, of course. If it's something too graphic, then I think you definitely just have to pass, or you know, possibly you do take the photograph but you don't submit it for publication.
ADAMS: How many images do you think you have in your files now?
Mr. BAXTER: I have no idea, usually a few thousand.
ADAMS: And is there one that can stay with you and you can just recall it instantly closing your eyes, one picture?
Mr. BAXTER: One that ran, there's a spread in Newsweek, is one that definitely makes you think, which was down again in Peopon River with a small child floating in the river that had - she had died during the storm. And what had happened, it looks like, there's a string, a small blue nylon string tied around her ankle. And you can sort of - from that you start to think and you wonder what was happening at that point. It was a storm surge, apparently. It wasn't like a giant wave came in, but the water actually at the river level just rising very quickly.
And you can sort of imagine maybe a mother or father trying to, you know, tie this child somewhere high where she could avoid the rising water, even if like the mother or father couldn't save her. So I was with a couple of other photographers at that time and we all really got to talking about that, discussing it. And that was - anyway, I think that stuck with everyone.
ADAMS: Will Baxter, a photojournalist for World Pictures Network, talking with us from the capital of Myanmar.
Thank you, Mr. Baxter.
Mr. BAXTER: All right, thanks.
ADAMS: And you can find a link to his photographs on our Web site: npr.org.