LONDON: THE PRESS BUNCH, MICHEL DE GROOT
photos and text c MICHEL DE GROOT/WPN
On Friday morning at 05.00 my cell phone rang. I jumped from my bed and ran for the phone. Katie Hunt-Morr from WPN apologized for calling me so early in the morning but wanted to know how soon I could get to London to cover the aftermath of the bombings. After a quick shower I called Katie back and asked her to repeat everything, since my brains where not really absorbing the information when she first phoned me, after only three and a half hours of sleep.
I was offered a one or two day assignment for the New York Times. I grabbed my gear plus some clothes and about half an hour later I flopped down in the train to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to catch the next flight to London. When I arrived at 10.45 I phoned the London office of the NY Times. I discovered that they were not informed of the fact that I had been sent to London for an assignment. They had not been contacted by office in New York because of the time difference between the continents.
At the London office of the New York Times I was welcomed by Alan Cowell and a kind lady named Pam. She introduced herself as the coordinator for England-based photographers. After a cup of tea and installing my notebook computer, they hooked me up with a reporter to work on an article.
We went to the street to gather “vox pops,” voices of the people. My task was to shoot portraits for the article. After a few hours in the city we went back to the office where I edited and filed my images. Shortly after that I headed out with another reporter to do a similar story.
Around five o'clock that afternoon I was phoned by Jessie, on the NY Times photo desk in New York, who asked how things were going.
She urged me that on the next day I should not hook up with any reporter but go out alone. I was encouraged to do my own thing and just follow my photographic vision on the story. Not an easy task in a situation where the limited visual content of the story is virtually stalked by the media. I spent the next morning and early afternoon roaming the streets of central London and visiting the bombing sites. I had to be back in time at the office to edit and file my images because of the early deadline for the Sunday edition.
The “main event” appeared to be at King's Cross station where the whole press corps was circling around like vultures waiting for people who would show some emotion or were brave enough to wade through the media crowd to lay flowers at the spot.
Suddenly everyone packed together around these two men. The brothers Webb were showing a picture of their sister Laura Webb who went missing after the bombings. They wanted media attention for her loss and were hoping that their sister would show up again somehow.
A little while later a woman in her mid twenties showed up with letter sized posters of her missing friend. Some 20 to 25 photographers, tv-crews and other journalists literally jumped on her and within a second everybody was stumbling all over each other to get a glimpse of this woman. This was obvious way too much for her and she reacted very scared and emotional. She tried to run away for this crowd but everyone followed her. For minutes long the whole press bunch was moving as one big organism from one side of the place to the other, while this woman anxiously tried to get rid of them. At some point she managed to hand over the posters to another woman who accompanied her.
Finally everybody backed off and she fled. I was observing this all from a few meters distance and I for a moment I could not help feeling very uncomfortable being a journalist.
photos and text c MICHEL DE GROOT/WPN
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