In all my years working as a photojournalist, the hardest, most difficult assignments to cover are those involving unwarranted death. The sudden loss of a child. A car accident. A fire. A friend’s suicide.
Like many all across the U.S., I awoke Sunday morning to the sickening news of the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla. It was shocking to hear someone could do such harm to people who mean no harm to anyone. And all I could think about was how my gay friends were feeling vulnerable. How they felt insecure, how angry they were, how scared. What kind of scum would attack a group of people just enjoying a night out on the town? Oh yeah: A piece of shit.
Stop The Hate
Over the weekend, I shot an assignment for the Bellingham Herald. On Monday, I was returning a borrowed camera. The editor asked if I was available to shoot a proposed vigil for the victims at the local club here Rumors Cabaret.
I had no plans for the night so I said I could take it if needed. I felt compelled to shoot the vigil. I needed to do something, anything to help overcome the anger and sadness I felt about Orlando. As photojournalism is my true passion, I tend not to reject assignments from newspapers or newsmagazines. The vigil was just a thought at this time and plans were sketchy. But it came together and the vigil was held.
When I arrived, not a lot of people were there. Bille Jones was one of the participants of the vigil. His plan was to read the names of the victims. He told me he was assaulted a few night before and felt compelled to make sure the victims would not just fade away.
As more showed up, the ambiance became a little heavier. My heart became heavy and started hurting. The reality of Orlando hit me like a train doing a 100mph. There seemed to be no stopping the hurt.
All Were Hurting
This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to shoot through tears. The LGBTQ community in Bellingham felt the pain as strong as those in Orlando. Their community was attacked. Their pain was palpable.
As Bille read the names of each victim, the silence of those listening was deafening. The crowd was large and the Bellingham Police Department shut down Railroad Avenue to give the mourners room. Over a hundred people joined the vigil by this time.
Flames of Hope
Some photojournalists say they shoot to hide their pain. I shoot to show the pain. To show the world how events like this, although 3 thousand miles away, still affect people. It is not easy to watch people through a viewfinder and document their pain. Your heart, if you have one, gets torn up. You feel that very same pain, anger, resentment, fear, and hope. It’s what drive me.
WARNING – RANT TO FOLLOW: I was more sick that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was under the watchful eye of the F.B.I. He was not just being watched, but also investigated for links to ISIS, was known to have anger issues, and was a closet homosexual. He wasn’t just some random dude who bought a gun and went in shooting. He planned this and the FBI failed to intervene, or tell, or purposefully let it happen.
He’s on the terror watch list and buys a gun. He was not some 3-year-old in a toy store that mom wasn’t watching when he picked up a water pistol. He was on the terror watch list and bought a semi-automatic weapon. The FBI, and therefore the US government, failed us.
My heart goes out the family, friends, and community of those innocent victims of such a brutal and unwarranted attack.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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Paul Conrad is a talented and skilled award-winning photographer living in Bellingham north of Seattle, WA, in the Pacific Northwest. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and in Europe. He is available for assignments anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Although his specialty is photojournalism covering news, sports, and editorial portraits, he also is skilled in family portraiture, high school senior portraits, and weddings.
His clients include Getty Images, Wire Image, AirBnB, The Bellingham Herald, and many local business in Whatcom County. Previous clients are Associated Press, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and many others.