|Words and photo by F LoBuono|
When you cover disasters as a journalist, it's important to remain somewhat detached. You are witnessing and documenting incredible heartache. It can suck you in, shake your soul, and redirect your priorities! Contrary to popular opinion, we are human beings, too. Maintaining focus, often through great physical and mental challenges, is the key to accomplishing your mission. And it is a mission. Your job is to help to inform the world - inform the world - as to what might be happening at that moment and in that place. If not for that mindset, it would be too difficult and, no matter how much freakin' money I may make, I would not do it!!
However, in what I see as the other side of the same coin, we must not detach too much as to lose contact with our subjects and, therefore, our own humanity. We ARE all human beings and when we acknowledge that, the world becomes a much better place. Besides, it makes for MUCH more compelling imagery! If you "connect", even a bit, people are more apt to allow you into their lives. It is often said that the worst circumstances usually brings out the best in people. From my experience, and I've had plenty under some pretty shitty circumstances, I find this to be absolutely true. When it's been most difficult, people have been the most magnificent. My recent coverage of Hurricane Sandy and it's aftermath has been the latest affirmation. The outpouring of support for the victims was immediate and effective. I witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers, as well as paid workers, police, National Guard, fire, and other officials work countless hours to give aid and support to those most effected. More than once, I had to say to a volunteer or official, no, thank you, I don't need any more food or water.
But it's the spirit of the so-called victims that may be the most impressive. In many cases (too many cases), Sandy took EVERYTHING people had. EVERYTHING. I witnessed many people (too many people) desperately sift through the remains of their belongings for virtually ANY physical connection to what their lives used to be. Yet, despite the incredible devastation, I don't recall ANYONE with what I would label as a defeatist attitude. Quite to the contrary, at worst, they were resigned (and that's not such a bad thing) and often it was hopeful, if not downright upbeat!
I made the photo that heads this entry of a man in one of the worst effected areas of Staten Island, NY. I mean his whole neighborhood was fucking smashed! At least a dozen sturdy homes were completely destroyed - including his. The only things left were the foundations and, on occasion, the front steps! Such was the case for the man in the photo. He showed me the various parts of his home, scattered through the marshland that comprised part of his neighborhood. He had virtually nothing left. Well, virtually nothing. A neighbor had noticed the mailbox he is holding a few blocks from where I made this photo and where the man's home once stood. Knowing it belonged to this gentleman, he found him and returned it. The guy was over-joyed!! He had made it as a "goofy" gift for his wife and they both got a kick out of it. It seems to have become part of their family mythology. And he just couldn't stop smiling that he had gotten it back! Even after showing me the remnants of his life scattered over a swamp, he just couldn't stop smiling. And it was genuine. He had something, and that was enough -for now. Remarkable.