‘It felt like a giant nuclear attack’

2011-03-26 15:36

Reuters photographer Goran ­Tomasevic arrived in Libya on February 23 after ­covering the upheaval in Egypt. His images provide a sense of what a ­tumultuous month it has been in the region. Kerri MacDonald of the New York Times ­interviewed him by email. This is an edited version of their ­correspondence:

I’d like to hear about the photo that ran on the New York Times’s front page. How did you get so close?
As we drove out of Benghazi on the main road towards ­Ajdabiyah, I saw smoke and heard explosions nearby.

I rushed towards the largest number of destroyed military vehicles and tanks. Several ­military vehicles along the road were full of munitions and ­exploding randomly.

It was very dangerous. Each time I went closer to take a photograph, the missiles would explode in my tracks and push me back.

At one moment I thought they had all exploded. I moved closer just as some of the rebels did. Suddenly it felt as though one of the many Grad rockets that had been exploding in all directions was chasing me. It felt like a giant nuclear attack.

My animal instinct for survival and my fast, long legs took me to safety. I dived into a hole in the sand.

I was struck by the picture of a rebel pointing a gun at a suspected Gaddafi supporter. There is a similar photo of a young man at gunpoint. What’s it like to photograph something like that?
The photograph of the rebel pointing his weapon on the road happened so quickly, I had only a second before I was pushed away and told not to take ­photographs.

I did not have enough time to understand what was happening, but when I photographed a young man suspected of being a mercenary because of his skin colour, I felt terrified for him.

What has changed since you arrived?

Now that there is foreign ­intervention the rebels and the people are more ­relaxed. At the start, when the rebels were ­advancing town by town, they welcomed the media.

They helped us a lot, giving us great access on the front line.
When the situation started to turn, however, and the government forces started to push them back, they became aware of their image and even blamed the media for their defeat by claiming the ­other side could see their ­location on television.

Is there an image you will remember above the others?

The photo I took on March 6, of shrapnel [from a mortar] landing on the side of the road, barely missing the rebels on the road from Bin Jawad. It was the most difficult image I’d captured in Libya so far. – New York Times

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