Dramatic photo, emotional tale
Seattle Times executive editor
Turn back to Page One for a moment, please, and look again at one of the most remarkable photos you will ever see.
"I have never seen a newspaper image quite like the one Thomas [James Hurst] photographed in Pakistan for today's front page," said Denise Clifton, who designed today's Seattle Times special report. "It looks like a painting. The scene inside the stable is almost biblical in texture and feel despite taking place just a couple of weeks ago."
Susan Jouflas, Times assistant art director for features, said the drama in the photo created by the quality of the light is reminiscent of the naturalism of a carefully composed 16th-century Caravaggio painting. Yet, as Clifton points out, "Thomas' photo wasn't composed at all. It's simply a moment caught while watching Hafeeza's family go about their lives."
Hafeeza Zaheen is the main character in today's article and the central figure in the front-page picture. The image is at once universal and intensely personal, which is precisely what The Times had hoped for in sending photographer Hurst and reporter Janet I. Tu along on this journey to Pakistan, where an estimated 80,000 people were killed and some 3.5 million were left without homes when a magnitude-7.6 earthquake hit on Oct. 8.
Searching for ways to connect readers to the disaster, Times editors and reporters had invited members of the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle to the newsroom to give us their thoughts. They told us they were looking for ways to help the quake victims and involve the broader community.
The association was formulating an idea to adopt a Pakistani village, so that the aid they might offer would be intensely focused. "They wanted it to be personal. They wanted to humanize it as much as possible," said Janet Horne Henderson, who edited our special report.
She knew the effort would be a story The Times should report, and she knew "you had to be there, too, if you wanted to capture the humanity of it."
What she didn't know was that events would happen so fast. Within days the logistics for the association's trip were coming together. The decision to send a reporter and photographer was made on a Friday, and the following Sunday morning Tu and Hurst were headed to Islamabad.
Tu had lived abroad before, but never reported internationally. Hurst has traveled extensively overseas, including to Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, Zaire, Kosovo and Iraq. He passed through Pakistan in 1996 on his way to Afghanistan.
Both the reporter and photographer said they left without a clear sense of what stories they would find. "In hindsight, it turned out to be a blessing," said Hurst. Instead of looking for something, he felt as if he simply had to "be patient and have faith the images would reveal themselves to me."
Today's front-page picture was taken as he sat in the shadows of the room. Leaning back against the dirt wall, Hurst said, he was "still, calm and at peace with where I was."
All of Hurst's previous overseas photo trips have been to war zones, and covering a natural disaster was different in many ways. Although there is "the same sense of devastation, catastrophe and loss," there isn't the same "guilt or anger as to why this happened."
"In a war zone your craft is secondary to trying to survive. You're allowed to be much more present when you're not having to fear who's shooting," he said. In Pakistan he had the luxury of looking for "gentle moments" that would connect best for readers.
At the other extreme, one of Hurst's hardest challenges was conveying the enormity of the devastation. The special report continues through Tuesday, and that day's installment includes extraordinary photos from a Pakistani city that was annihilated in the quake. "I'd never seen anything like it, and I've seen a lot," the photographer said.
Tu faced the same challenge of finding words to embrace the enormity of what happened, how hard it is to survive, how dire the need and how overwhelming the effort to rebuild. In the end she found the answer in the people.
Tu said she was initially drawn to Hafeeza because "there is something about her eyes, the expressiveness of her eyes, and her welcoming, warm smile." Only after they began to talk did the reporter learn that the woman's 5-year-old daughter, Sultana, was one of seven village children who died in the earthquake.
"You would not know her sorrows unless you ask," Tu writes in today's installment. "She offers tea to guests and insists they have bowls of noodles sweetened with sugar, though she's just finished telling you — because you asked — that she has only five days of food left."
Tu said she was humbled by the experience. "Hafeeza was just so open telling us about her life and her daughter. She is an incredible person.
"For all of the statistics, for every person there is a story," she said. "They had so little to begin with and lost so much, but their hospitality and graciousness was just incredible."
And, for all of they have endured, the millions of homeless quake victims face even more hardship as winter approaches. Tu said she hopes this series of stories will create "a connection, a personal, emotional connection, and an appreciation of what they are going through."
She also hopes readers will stop to appreciate all that we have in our lives and consider what we can do to help.
For Hurst, the essence of the story is "the strength of people, our ability to survive with dignity and respectfulness. We can endure. We can endure and love one another and take care of one another."
Inside The Times appears in the Sunday Seattle Times. If you have a comment on news coverage, write to Michael R. Fancher, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, call 206-464-3310 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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