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Guillermo Cervera

Libya: A look to the future

On April 20, 2011 Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, acclaim photojournalists who had worked in conflict zones around the world, were killed in an explosion during an attack by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces against rebels in the western Libyan city of Misurata. Two other photographers were injured.
Guillermo Cervera was one of the photojournalists who was at the place of the attack, saving his life by a few meters. We talked with him about the situation in Libya.

“I have seen children lying on the street with clean headshots gunned by snipers. And I must say a sniper do not make random shooting, because they see their victims very well through the viewfinder of the rifle … I have seen many aberrations in Misurata.”

What led you to Libya?

I’ve been performed many works in “La Vanguardia” newspaper, and one day I received a call from the head of the international section, who is a friend of mine, saying that he was going to work in Libya and wanted me to go with him. I must say that the trip was prepared with real urgency, overnight, ‘because the border with Egypt had just opened and I remembered because I had a very strong flu. The first days were a bit chaotic, I forgot the camera batteries in a hotel in Egypt and another photographer brought them to me. Physically speaking I felt bad… but we enter in Libya and i began to work immediately.

At that time.  How long ago the Libyan conflict has been started?

Just a few days, only a week since the rebels began to fight against Gaddafi’s government. The rebels had just taken the east borders of the country and opened to the outsiders.

Which was the first impression and what you found when get there?

It was very interesting because Libya is a country that has been closed to foreign journalists for more than four decades since Gaddafi is in the government. As a western journalist I found a pristine site to work. The people had never seen journalists on the streets making his work with their cameras and I remember the time when we came to the demonstrations in Benghazi, we were the firsts along with the journalists from the NY Times. The border had been opened only for a day or two and people looked at us like if we were ‘aliens’ carrying cameras, they certainly did not know how to react. Personally, everything was special because we were making news in places where no one had been reporting a single news before. I made simple things like talk and photographing customers at a hair salon or taking pictures to a few children playing in a ditch jumping into the water, things that were very interesting to me as photographer… i must said.

Did you have problems with the rebels to develop your work?

Absolutely not, we were in a zone entirely controlled by the rebels. They looked at us as foreigners, but they knew that they had to work with the press, only on that way the world would know about their fight. In Libya, the press is helping a lot and they know it. If there weren’t international press inside Libya, Gaddafi’s forces could have a free ticket to suppress their opponents using the hardest way possible.

You have been in Libya at least two months, which were the toughest moments on that period of time?

There have been hard times like the death of my two colleagues (Tim Hetherington & Chris Hondros). Obviously I was affected a lot. We were working together, sleeping in the same place, we were together everywhere for an entire week and in an instant a mortar falls from the skies and kills them. Aside from the harshness of the situation and the daunting scene where you have to help colleagues who are also friends recently beaten by a mortar. After the chaos, you realize the fact that could’ve been you on the same situation because i was at his right just next to him. That makes you ask yourself a lot about the war photographer profession. After all the conclusion is the same, I do what I do because I like it and I’ll keep doing it, because I believe in journalism, I believe in photojournalism as a way to help change things and seen so I will try to keep doing my thing , despite the risk it may entail.

The coverage of the Libyan rebellion by the news, showing the harsh repression of the Gaddafi’s regime had has against with his own people has made the nations of the occident and NATO to take sides. Don’t you think this is a good example of how photojournalism can help to change things?

Yes I do.  Before I went to Misurata, was in Benghazi and I was very tired because of the working rhythm. I knew that in Misurata there were no photojournalists, they were killing lots of people and that the work that was planned to accomplish in Libya had ended. Let me explain myself: I was in Libya thanks to “La Vanguardia” and the already paid the photographs I sent to them during the days in Bengasi. I knew that a travel to Misurata wasn’t going to provide me more money despite the risks entailed, unless I could sell some photos, but… I did it no matter what… because I knew that somehow I could help the world with my photographic testimony to the comprehension on how the repression by the Gaddafi’s regime was killing his own people. The repression in Misurata has been brutal: continuous bombing, snipers shooting everywhere killing children. I have seen children lying on the street with clean headshots gunned by snipers. And I must say a sniper do not make random shooting, because they see their victims very well through the viewfinder of the rifle … I have seen many aberrations in Misurata.

You have witnessed those killings?

Yes, I needed to go there and show the world using my photos as a testimony about all that was happening, and the mission was accomplished.

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