In Sarajevo, the Fear of Living


February 27, 1994|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

Michael Lutzky, a photographer for The Sun, spent 26 days in January in Sarajevo shooting 5,400 pictures of people living under daily siege of shells and gunfire. Editor John S. Carroll had told him, ''Don't come back with war stories;'' be a ''visual correspondent'' of life, not death.

Although snipers shot at him from 250 yards, it wasn't until the last day that he met the war in Bosnia close-up. He was leaving Sarajevo to fly home February 5 when he heard the now-famous market shell that killed 68 people.

For a 25-year-old, 18 months into his first professional job, it was an epiphany. ''I saw dead people with expressions of amazement. Their skin was so white. Their eyes were so big. . . . Blood was everywhere. I wasn't thinking of the newspaper. I wasn't a photographer. I stayed out of the way and just shot a roll and a half. There weren't really rescuers there. Most people were dead. When I found myself staring, I left.

''The market was a fluke for me as a photographer. It made every other picture I took of those live people that much more important. I had liked the assignment of no war stories. Yet if I took only pictures of the lovers and the cigarette factory and the artists, I'm creating a myth. There were too many dead people in Sarajevo.''

When The Sun ran its ''Life Under Siege'' series of four dramatic stories by veteran reporter Dan Fesperman and 15 sensitive pictures by Mr. Lutzky February 11-14, there were no gruesome body pictures. Life shone through, but also fear, the fear of death, the fear of living. (A selection of Mr. Lutzky's pictures is on page 5 of this section.)

Newspaper photographers are a different breed from reporters, and from each other. Some view the world as a little out of kilter, not quite horizontal and vertical. They often must be self-confident, even brash, to be good. They figure editors think of them as afterthoughts, and reporters consider them only accessories to make their stories look good. They see themselves as artists, sensitive souls. They'll shoot 25 rolls to get a couple of good shots.

Mr. Lutzky says he's not a ''newspaper photographer'' but ''a photographer who works on a newspaper.'' He liked the idea of going into Sarajevo before the veteran Mr. Fesperman and finding stories himself. He was the writer's equal partner, rather than a follower snapping shots to illustrate what the writer found.

Mr. Lutzky arrived New Year's Day in Sarajevo and began looking. He is Jewish, so he decided a good place to start would be the Jewish Community Center.

''I got lucky.'' He asked a teen-ager, Vlado Jovanovic, ''Do you know any young people in love?'' Mr. Jovanovic replied, ''Sure. I'm one of them, but my girlfriend moved to Vienna while there was time to get out. I'll introduce you to others.''

The meetings led to the Fesperman story of young lovers and pictures such as Enko Hadzic and Dragana Sabo kissing. The photog- rapher also found his new subjects were good basketball players for some other leisure moments.

The Jewish center also yielded Slobodan -- ''my valuable guide [who] became my good friend. He helped me find a cigarette factory, a bakery, a hospital, a bridge club, convoys out of Sarajevo, party-goers, other good stories.''

They discovered life in the Sarajevo String Quartet, bakers making bread, a woman getting a haircut.

Mr. Lutzky had shot 45 rolls of much fear and some fun the first two weeks. Then Mr. Fesperman, The Sun's man in Germany, joined him the day Mr. Lutzky and 20 others got food poisoning (''It was the meat''). His stomach growled for days but the two did their 100-yard sprints to and from the exposed Holiday Inn to avoid snipers. Sometimes the loss of heat, water and power got them to work early.

They visited gravediggers, the encircled suburb of Dobrinja, an orphanage, a woman who murdered her abusive husband with an ax, a library whose books were damaged by shrapnel, restaurants and the only active newspaper, Oslobodenje.

''I would have left Bosnia the first day if I had seen the market bombing the day I came instead of the day I was leaving. I fell in love with these people for a month. Dignity, respect, courage. I had wonderful memories. Then in 15 minutes it was nothing but pieces of people. I had to get out.

''Slobodan had said, 'The people in Sarajevo used to be afraid of the unknown, but now they are afraid of the known.' In the market I finally knew what he meant. Everyone got to see the known, the dead, if they waited long enough. All I could think of for a while was pieces of people.''

Mr. Lutzky's haunting pictures can help him remember the living of Sarajevo.

Ernest F. Imhoff is The Sun's reader representative.

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