Documenting moment in history

News media

Bhutto Assassinated

December 28, 2007|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun television critic

In a news media landscape where more and more citizen journalists are wielding cell phone cameras, it was a series of old-school, still photographs taken by a seasoned professional that held the world's attention in the immediate aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

From the Web site of NPR, to the screens of CNN and, images captured by John Moore, a Pulitzer-winning photographer working for Getty Images, served as a powerful reminder that journalistic training, technical skill and professional know-how still matter when it comes to recording major breaking world events.

The gallery of Moore's images yesterday included what appeared to be the last image of the Pakistani opposition leader before she was killed. It shows her standing in an opening of the roof of a white SUV waving as she leaves a rally in Rawalpindi.

The next image - taken seconds later - features bystanders recoiling from a wall of fire triggered by the explosion of a suicide bomber. Another picture shows a grief-stricken man wailing amid the carnage, while a fourth captures the ground-level view of an onlooker badly injured in the explosion.

"What's great about the picture of her in the SUV is the timing - it appears to be last picture of her alive," said Richard Chisolm, an Emmy-winning documentary photographer whose credits range from National Geographic to ABC News' Hopkins 24/7 series. "But actually, in a technical sense, it's not great. It's slightly soft because of movement.

"The guy's in a crowd, and he's being elbowed and pushed and pulled, and he's in front of a moving vehicle and trying to get this frontal shot. But he was positioned in a good place, and he reached up and got it at the right time."

Pierce Wright, senior picture editor for Getty, said Moore's proximity to Bhutto in the seconds before her death made the image so compelling to photo editors around the world.

"There is a rawness to it, but that rawness only adds to the impact," he said.

There is more to documenting a moment of history than just timing, Chisolm said. Abraham Zapruder, an amateur with a home-movie camera, captured the last living images of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. But experts are still arguing as to what the images show because of their blurred and grainy nature.

The real measure of Moore's professional skill and savvy is shown in the series of shots taken seconds after the gunfire and blast directed against Bhutto.

"If you really look at what John Moore did seconds later, that is incredibly powerful photography, and that is what defines him as a professional," Chisolm said. "He's 50 feet away from ground zero of this explosion, and he's taking pictures of people crying and screaming and running - and those pictures are beautifully evocative of the photographer's experience."

As much as Chisolm said he appreciates the quantity of news images being harvested by citizen journalists, he believes only a skilled and crisis-tested professional could have delivered the kind of quality Moore did.

"The average amateur photographer probably wouldn't have done what Moore did, just in staying there and being so aggressive," he said. "You judge a professional by the aggregate - the contact sheet - of all his work on the assignment. And the aggregate of Moore's work is terrific."

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