Based in Islamabad, the Getty staffer shoots conflicts around the world.
The photographic community is incredibly diverse, made up of photographers that shoot from the sky to the sea and everywhere in between. Each month we look at a different segment of the industry, interviewing top professional photographers about life, their careers, and what sets their piece of the photographic industry apart from the rest.
This month we focus on John Moore, a senior staff photographer with Getty Images based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Before joining Getty, Moore was a staff photographer with the Associated Press, and was on a team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography for their coverage of the war in Iraq. Having lived in Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt and Pakistan, as well as the United States, Moore estimates that he's worked in over 80 countries throughout his career. Most recently named Magazine Photographer of the Year in POYi, Moore was awarded two first place prizes at the 2008 World Press Photo Contest for his coverage of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Taking some time while on a layover in Johannesburg in route to Zimbabwe, Moore provides some insight into what it's like to work as an international conflicts photographer.
Q. Where did you begin your career as a photojournalist? Did you work at a daily newspaper or were you shooting international conflicts from day one?
I actually paid for much of my university tuition by shooting sports - football, basketball, baseball - whatever assignments I could get and for whoever would pay, including the college newspaper and the Associated Press. I also took several paid internships at newspapers during my summer vacations while in college.
After graduation, the AP offered me a post as the photo stringer based in Managua, Nicaragua, and ever since I have worked internationally. Early on with the AP, I concentrated more on feature and social documentary photography. My first real experience with conflict photography was when I was sent to Somalia to cover the famine in late 1992. I was the only wire service photographer there when George Bush Sr. announced that the U.S. would send troops, so I had that important story to myself for almost a week until other photographers arrived. I stayed on through the U.S. invasion.
When photographing out on the streets of Mogadishu, I had two gunmen with AK-47s by my side at all times. After the U.S. Army said that we could no longer employ private security guards, I was out photographing one day and was robbed of all of my cameras by armed bandits and in a separate incident stoned by a mob a couple of hours later. Sixteen years and many conflict zones later, I still count those months in Somalia as the most dangerous of my career.
Q. You were recently the closest journalist to the blast during the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Why did you decide to shoot the rally she was attending at the time?
The threat level against her, of course, was very high following the attack on her procession a few months before when she returned to Pakistan from 8 years in exile. During President Musharraf's state of emergency, she had planned a large demonstration in Rawalpindi but was put under house arrest, so the rally didn't happen. So, months later when the much-delayed event was finally to take place, I thought I should be there. And naturally we all knew there was a threat. In fact, the number of her supporters there was down significantly, as many people stayed home afraid.
Q. What was that experience like? Did you suffer any injuries? Are you happy with the images you captured?
I never expected her to leave the event standing up through the roof of her armored vehicle the way she did. I had been walking to my car, trying to leave the event, when I took one last look back and saw her riding along and waving to the crowd, which was swarming around the vehicle. Let me risk cliché and say - it all happened so fast - because it did. After sprinting back to her car, I only photographed her for 18 seconds, according to the time codes in the digital images, before I moved ahead of the vehicle just prior to the blast. Afterwards, I was temporarily deafened by the explosion, so for me it was all very quiet at first. It was almost dark, and I had not had time to raise the camera's ISO to match the situation, so much of the photography was unusable because of very severe blur. That said, the movement visible in some of the frames probably added to the urgency of the photos. I suppose being so close to the blast, I was not really thinking much about shutter speeds. The possibility of a secondary suicide blast or just getting run over by Benazir's fleeing vehicle was in mind, however.
Q. You've photographed in dangerous conditions throughout your career. Have you ever feared for your life? What drives you to continue documenting life and death in conflict zones?
No matter how long you're in this business of conflict photography you will always feel fear. When you no longer feel it, then it's time to get out. More important is what you do with that fear. If you calculate your risks based on your instincts and experience, then you can channel your fear to help focus on what is in front of the lens. That said, there are never any guarantees - and no, fortunately I have never been seriously injured.