Hanging with Revolutionaries

MNLF Leaders on a boat in Mindanoa, Philipppines

Waiting is a major part of a photojournalist’s life; waiting for the Pope, a President or a rebel.

The first revolutionaries I ever worked with were the MNLF, Moro National Liberation Front, in the southern Philippines. When I wanted to contact them I would wait in a hotel in Davao on the Island of Mindanao. The room was just big enough for a bed; there were cracks and stains on the walls and tiles that were lifting off the floor. There were mosquitoes drifting around a ceiling fan, which clicked and clacked as it went around.

Late in the evening the rebels would come and collect me, and we would slip out the back door into a waiting ambulance. I would lie on the floor, and they would drive through the town, past police checkpoints and up into the hills.

On one occasion an MNLF group I was traveling with thought I wasn’t getting good enough photographs, so they offered to set up an ambush. The rebels said they would attack a group of soldiers in a nearby village so I could get pictures of them being shot and killed. I told them that I wasn’t interested in taking those type of images and left the area the next day. There was no way I could take any more pictures in that place, because I would never know if they were setting up an ambush or killing soldiers just so I could get what they considered to be good photographs.

It’s not the only time people have offered to kill someone for me. I once went to a murder trial in Tehran with an Australian film crew. The local papers named the accused “Mustapha the Butcher” because he allegedly killed his partner by slitting his throat from ear to ear in a drug deal. Mustapha was found guilty by two judges, a civil judge and an Islamic judge. After the trial we spoke to the Islamic judge and asked him what would happen. He said, “Mustapha is a weed in the garden of roses and will be executed in two days time.”

The judge then turned to me and said, “What time will the light be good enough for your photographs? When would you like him to be hung?”

I left that decision to the judge.