Cook the Hunt
The recent general elections in Spain were held in the wake of an ex-socialist councillor shot dead in the Basque Country in a place near my hometown. I was working on the afternoon shift when I saw the first alert of the assassination appear on our text service. I almost jumped out my chair. Somehow my internal alarm bell still goes off instinctively whenever something happens in the area where I used to work. It was only after a couple of seconds that I realized I’m 12,000 kilometers from where the assassination took place, and I couldn’t just grab a camera and go. There wasn’t much I could do, except get in touch with the photographer in the Basque Country, make sure he was aware of the breaking news, and then prepare for his pictures to land on the desk.
Above: Basque police collect evidence outside the house of a former socialist councillor after an attack in Mondragon, northern Spain, March 7, 2008. Photograph by Vincent West
Above: People stand during a silent protest in Burgos, northern Spain March 7, 2008, against the murder of Isaias Carrasco. Photograph by Felix Ordonez
Above: Spanish vice president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega (R) and Spanish Socialist Party spokesman Jose Blanco (C) walk in front of the coffin of Isaias Carrasco carried by Basque Socialist Party general secretary Patxi Lopez (back L) and Basque socialist’s president Jesus Egiguren, during a funeral in Mondragon, northern Spain, March 8, 2008. Photograph by: Vincent West
The political fallout of the murder clearly made for an intense election weekend in Spain. The picture desk received and sent a constant stream of photographs – including presidential candidates, polling stations, street reactions, the winners, the losers and a funeral. The pictures flowed quickly into the desk, and by the time the last pictures arrived we were up against most deadlines . I was inevitably assigned to handle the file. I guess there was no surprise there, because as I am being familiar with the region, it’s facts and politics, people and names, it made editing faster and smoother — and that is what our business is all about.
Above: A father and daughter prepare a ballot at an Oviedo polling station during Spain’s general elections March 9, 2008. Photograph by Eloy Alonso
Above: A Catholic nun looks for her Senate ballot at a polling station in Aravaca, outside Madrid, during Spain’s parliamentary election March 9, 2008. Photograph Susana Vera
Above: Muslim women cast their votes at a Ceuta polling station during Spain’s general elections March 9, 2008. Photograph by Rafael Marchante
The job of getting the Spanish election pictures out to the wire worked in perfect coordination between myself and the photographers in the field, which made me happy because I felt as if I was still there with them, even though by working on the picture desk I am now on the other side of the line. It certainly made me forget the huge distance that separates us – a distance that didn’t exist until December 2006, when I joined the Global Pictures Desk in Singapore.
Above: Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero gestures to supporters outside the Socialists party headquarters in Madrid, March 9, 2008. Photograph by Alessandro Bianchi
Above: Spain’s opposition leader and Partido Popular (PP) candidate Mariano Rajoy embraces his wife Elvira Fernandez after his defeat in Spain’s general elections at the party’s headquarters in Madrid March 9, 2008. Photograph by Susana Vera
Before that I was immersed in my work of photographing bombing and riots; demonstrations and undercover midnight police operations; soccer matches and the running of the bulls; news conferences and film festivals, and a plethora of etceteras in the troubled Basque Country region in Spain, where I had been a freelance photographer for Reuters since 1997. Adrenaline was my daily fuel, and I never thought I’d give it up for anything else in the world. But then I did.
Above: Me shooting the Tour of the Basque Country cyclist race. Photograph by Jesus Diges
There are numerous reasons why I opted for such a change but I guess one stood out most at that time. The political struggle in the Basque Country was, happily, calming down and while it might sound cynical, we all know there’s not much news if there isn’t bad news. So of the various alternatives presented to me then, I decided to jump at the opportunity to work as an editor on the pictures desk in Singapore. After all, what better place was there to learn how a picture desk operates? and to witness what happens to the pictures once they’ve been shot and filed to the desk.
Above: Masked demonstrators hold pyrotechnic rokects and petrol bombs during riots on the streets of San Sebastián, July 27, 1997. Photograph by Pablo Sanchez.
Above: Spanish Civil Guard members carry an environmental activist after he was arrested during a demonstration against the demolition of the village of Itoiz in northern Spain late June 16, 2003. Photograph by Pablo Sanchez.
Above: Masked Ertzainas (Basque Police members) stand guard outside the home of a suspected ETA member after arresting him in the Basque Country town of Zaldibia August 22, 2001. Photograph by Pablo Sanchez
Henri Cartier-Bresson is credited with saying: “Actually, I’m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I’m not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren’t cooks. And I can’t imagine a better place to learn to “cook” than the Global Pictures Desk. Cartier-Bresson has a point. In all my years as a photographer, and I’m sure my colleagues out there will agree, hunting images can prove to be the most exhilarating experience – at times intense, at times a necessary task, many times exciting, but all in all a truly great pleasure. It’s almost impossible to describe the rush you feel when you put your credibility on the line and try your utmost to find the best possible angles to illustrate reality, frame by frame. You often feel part of history as it unfolds. While the hunt is not about a claim to fame, I won’t deny that it feels good when, on the day after shooting the photographs, you find you are the creator of that picture that adorns every front page. Absolute gratification.
Above: A runner leads a fighting bull into Pamplona’s arena during the seventh run of the San Fermin Festival on July 13, 2001. Photograph by Pablo Sanchez
Above: People crowd a cave near the Basque country village of Zugarramurdi to attend an “Aquelarre” (witches’ sabbath) June 21, 1998. Photograph by Pablo Sanchez
Anyways, back on track. I guess I have an inkling of what the hunt is about, but what would be the fate of all the hard-won photographs without a crew of committed editors working around the clock to ensure that the pictures are perfectly presented to our clients all over the world. I mean, who will eat raw hunt – print the untouched images? Who will ever consume the product of my stalking if no one contributes the proper spices, sauces, oils and condiments – print a picture without the right crop, good colour balance or toning, and correct captions? I wish I knew then what I know now – that the people on the pictures desk are my group of dedicated picture editors working within many limits of multiple international datelines which feels like hungry patrons waiting at the table. Our clients can expect to be served with the best possible array of pictures that have been professionally primed under our stringent code of photo shopping ethics and ensure the speedy delivery of our top quality pictures and captions.
As a pictures editor I am now a cook and i’ll continue fine tuning my personal “cooking” style. I know that taking photographs will always be my first love but being familiar with both worlds allows me a fuller appreciation of how it all works together. I do miss taking pictures a lot more than I expected but I know I am helping “cook” – I know how important my contribution as a picture editor is. This also has made the transition between the two sides of photojournalism relatively painless. And I do believe working for Reuters is like working in a three-star Michelin restaurant.