Two-time Pulitzer winner Essdras M. Suarez said that a photo, no matter how good, is never worth someone’s life.

Even for a multi-awarded photojournalist who has covered harrowing tragedies – from tsunami aftermaths, wars and massacres to the Boston Bombing Marathon – scenarios of raw human suffering still make him stop and think: “Is the grief I am causing this person worthy of making a photo?”

Two-time Pulitzer winner Essdras M. Suarez said that a photo, no matter how good, is never worth someone’s life.

“You should save a life before taking a photo. That’s my mantra right there,” he told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Xposure 2018 opening on Wednesday.

Suarez recalled his coverage of Indonesia’s big tsunami where he decided that taking what could have been an amazing image was not worth “adding stress to a poor kid’s life”.

“I came across a scene fifteen days after the disaster, where a young boy who had gotten caught in the churning waters had his skin peeled off. I saw him in a mobile hospital unit in the tent and I looked at him … it was such a raw thing to see,” he said.

“I decided at that moment that people have seen this, and I don’t need to mess with this kid. Just then, a Japanese photographer rushed by me and pushed me out of the way, he got his lens right on the poor kid’s face, startling him.

“I know the photos came out well, but I just didn’t think it was worth adding more stress to the poor kid’s life,” Suarez added.  

Before snapping a shot, journalists must first think hard whether the impact of the image would be worth disrupting someone in pain, he said.

“If the photos are meant to serve a purpose like create a change for the better of humanity, for the better of the situation and the victims, then yes, I think it’s worth the transgression.”

As part of Xposure, the Sharjah international photography festival held at the Expo centre, Suarez is showcasing a host of poignant images he had taken during his coverage of stories such as the

Columbine Shooting, Boston Bombing Marathon, Newton Massacre, tsunami aftermath and Iraq war coverage, among others.

Several of his photos have been published in highly acclaimed publications such as the National Geographic, Time, New York Times and Washington Post. Through the years, he had also received multiple awards for his portraits as well as his food, product and travel photography.

Cheerios test

In covering gruesome incidents and massacres, photographers have to know the limit in producing graphic content. Suarez said: “You should always put yourself in someone else’s shoes before making such photos. I believe one should first be a human being and then anything else.”

He said that if a photojournalist is placed in a scenario such as a bombing aftermath where mangled corpses are everywhere, he or she must first answer the question: “If that body was your relative or friend, would you like to see it in this form?”

Referring to a ‘cheerios test’ in the newspaper industry, he said: “When (someone) sees the photo at home and if they choked on their ‘cheerios’, that photo probably shouldn’t have been there.”

Years of covering tragedies had toughen him up, Suarez said. “I have become quite good at compartmentalising my memories. I don’t dwell too much on the moments I have seen behind my camera.  It’s only when I am forced to tell the story, I relive the scenes.”

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