A POPULAR HOLIDAY MEME concerns best Flickr photos. Those who read this blog regularly know the most popular photo in my Flickr photostream is a quick snap I took while walking around my new hometown of Cashel, County Tipperary. Hundreds of viewers have made the image the most-commented in my 2000 item collection. It's also the "most interesting" one of all Irishblogs images. But those things are not important. Using the viewfinder of a camera is important. I believe that because I watch the effect a camera has on the creative impulses of Irish students learning multimedia programming. If one can write program code as well as take quality photographs, we can see true left brain/right brain intellect at work.
I am reminded about all this on the heels of receiving yet another email from a reader about the final Ramstein Flutag Airshow, in August 1988. A military photojournalist poked me in the eye when she wrote about the post-traumatic stress of that gory day. Like me, she finds it difficult to deal with issues around the day's events. In her case, she cannot do photojournalism anymore. She writes, "I so loved photography before. I'm so tired of thinking 'what a beautiful picture' when the skies flame red around the mountains or my granddaughters cuddle together reading a book. I do manage to make it to my younger boys' field trips to get photos for their teachers to use on projects but the anxiety I feel afterwards...well, I haven't figured out how to overcome that."
I know the feeling. In my case, it's difficult writing about carnage that flashes back to me whenever I smell burnt meat on open fire or whenever I see young girls eating chocolate ice cream. That's another story I have written elsewhere. On the day, I sold ice cream to a crowd of 300,000, including a young girl who caught fire with a cone in her hand. After the day, I just can't look at chocolate ice cream the same.
On the day, a young Security Policeman glared at several photographers and hissed, "What are you sick?" The police confiscated several cameras, including one containing film of a man photographing a couple who were running while coated with burning jet fuel. One military photojournalist was stunned "I worked at the hospital ... taking documentary photos for the doctors. But I didn't. I felt shame for my profession. I was later chewed out for that by the doctors because those would have been valuable, they said, for briefings and MASCAL training, I failed a mission, so to say, failed what I was trained to do in the military."
At ground zero, I drove volunteers to a make-shift blood donor point. Many in my military unit feared they could be donating blood for family members they could not find in the aftermath of the jets crashing into the crowd.
My shift job involved co-ordinatining emergency air evacuation flights. In the Landstuhl Army Regional Medial Center, one of the photojournalists "resented being sent to get pictures within the hospital that day and a few days later during the medivac of a burn patient. The doctor saw me with my camera and when he yelled to get away, his hand hit the tube attached to the patient. I carried the fear that my causing that action may have caused his death. I wish I knew if he lived. I had just been to the morgue at K-town to pick up one of our helicopter pilot's personal effects, He didn't make it...father of five kids."
I know what it feels like writing about trauma. I have filed written reports after being caught in gunfire that cut through my airplane. I relive the sequence of events of a fighter flown by a former student crash into hilly terrain on the egress to a gunnery mission. Back in Germany, the photojournalist had "the ordeal of trying to write the news article for the command's newspaper. Interviewing the staff, people who were friends, and feeling their pain, reliving the event with every interview, with every revision to the article."
Like several people inside the perimeter fence, I still have some original material from Flugtag 1988. I think there is something to be gained from the unwashed interviews, different articles and video footage that could help with closure. Some excellent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder research was completed after that event. I often wonder what it could do to my head if I opened my mind to that material.
We teach Irish college students photojournalism. From those in the profession: "It's such a rewarding career because you have so many wonderful and diverse experiences but you have to take the not so good along with it. You don't usually get the choice to be selective. You may have the skill and intelligence, but when the pressure is on how are you going to react?"
In my personal case, hearing from those who were also walking among the carnage and did something to ease pain and suffering makes me realise I am not the only one with a burning ice cream memory. I am starting to see the need to write about the day's events as they unfolded in dramatic fashion throughout the five years that followed. I have the script in my head. I bought a microphone that will help expunge the story from my memory. Who knows? This could be an interesting set of podcasts.