Last week, a volcanic eruption at White Island, New Zealand killed 16 people and injured 26 others. Reuters quickly mobilized and Chief Photographer Jorge Silva travelled to document the aftermath, which included aerial shots of the island and photographs of the memorial at the Whakatane habor. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Jorge gives a behind-the-scenes look at covering the story.
Q: How did you end up photographing the erupted volcano in New Zealand?
A: Our pictures editor for Asia Ahmad Masood asked me to go as soon as news of the volcano broke. I arrived in Whakatane the next morning. I had stayed in New Zealand earlier this year in March to cover the aftermath of a mass shooting in a mosque.
Q: What was the experience like on the ground and in getting the aerial footage?
A: It was an unfortunate experience. In the field, it’s always tough to photograph the relatives of the victims for a very shocking and traumatic event. For aerial footage, it is the most rewarding part of the story to have an opportunity to see the incredible power of nature as both beautiful and tragic. We had a fantastic flight, at the best time of the afternoon, even if we couldn’t get close to the volcano to respect the no-flight zone of 5 nautical miles (9.2 km) around. Despite this restriction, the flight gave us a window to look out and show our audience this amazing and unique point of view.
Q: What was the hardest part of covering the story?
A: The most challenging part is dealing with the suffering, the human cost of the tragedy, and the sadness of the relatives. It was one of those stories which shows us again how fragile life is and how fast everything can change. New Zealanders are very kind people, and this part makes a difficult moment smoother.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: I feel that when we take pictures, we have a responsibility with the people we portray, we have to show their stories and challenges, and when this ends up in powerful and truthful stories, our job is properly done. The most difficult experience for me is always to see and feel the violence in some stories.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a photojournalist? If so, what?
A: I’ve been doing this for the last 24 years, 20 of them with Reuters – it’s more than half of my life and I’m really passionate and committed to my job, I really enjoy it. I’m always still learning.