Cordoned off the seats reserved for government officials and priests, we were huddled in a small corner near the speakers, I, trying my best to stretch the limited capacity of my camera to capture the scene unfolding before me. When I told them I’ve been scolded by the PSG for going over the line to get a closer picture of the marble tablet etched with the names of those who died, Boyax only smirked, rolled his eyes; while Keith looked up at the starless night. Their gestures told me they have totally resigned themselves to faith, they have stopped trying another trick, what can you expect? As we crouched over, reviewing our shots, Boyax had helped me find the good ones that would do and the bad ones that had to be discarded. Kill your babies, as Ja used to say.
Then, I began telling myself, this one, I’d surely miss.
My good old days pretending to be a photographer would soon be over. But in the past months—or a year or two that I’ve been doing it—had been a fruitful one. It was an apprenticeship of sort. I had had a lot of lessons on the job. Unlike sitting on the bench, scrawling notes, I loved being with the cameras, to be at the forefront of things as they happened, to frame events through the lens I was holding. I got shouted at, and shoved away, at times, but it was part of the game. I loved to be among this ragged, throbbing crowd with all the equipment they carried and adored.
Once, at the height of the campaign, failing to get myself in the middle of the action, I had shouted my questions from under the tripod (it was that crowded), still aiming through with my camera. The would-be President had to look up and down the jungle of bodies, limbs and equipment to answer my questions.
I often heard of the arrogance of some photographers against some newcomers. But this crowd of photographers (where I felt I belonged) had readily welcomed me, allowed a small inch of space for me to stand, or crouch, in this too crammed world of photojournalism.
Then, I stopped bringing my camera. It proved too bulky, I’m afraid, in situations which demanded from me agility and lightness; situations that demanded most of the strength left in my weakening body. Covering the president has always been an exhausting job that requires us to stand for very long hours, skip meals, write stories on the phone, as fast as we can.
Soon, I may no longer be doing this anymore. I will always look back to my days among the photographers as one of the most memorable days of being a journalist. It allowed me new perspectives of telling stories; opened my eyes to a different medium, a medium that is more physical and more demanding of strength and alertness than the one I’ve been used to.
It allowed me to be myself, to go against rules and conventions, to try new angles, new worldviews, and even get dirty, doing it.