Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Kuwait 1991

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm

 

  Canadian firefighters in Kuwait battle to seal an oil well                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        “What was incredible inside Kuwait was the sense of being in this huge theatre the size of the planet, with these oil wells burning all around. Sometimes you would go two or three days without any sunlight getting through the vast clouds of black smoke, then suddenly the sky would open. It was also quite dangerous. There were unexploded cluster bombs in the sand. A journalist and a photographer were killed when a slick of oil ignited as they crossed it. […] It was capping the well, for these guys, that was hell. Saddam Hussein’s men had used a large number of explosives, leaving the wellhead badly deformed. Because Kuwait is at the lowest point of a vast Middle Eastern oil field, the pressure was enormous, pushing the oil out with a noise like a 747’s engines. Everything was completely black. You couldn’t hear anyone speak. […]

At one point, one of the Canadians got too close, inhaled too much gas, and fell down unconscious. Meanwhile, as these guys worked away with their tools and instruments, they knew that if they touched metal against metal hard enough to create a spark, a fire would have engulfed them. As I was photographing, we did sometimes have a kind of explosion, as gas burst up through the well, but it did not ignite. The firefighters were making a lot of money, of course, but the work was so tiring and so tough that a few times I saw some of them just sit down and cry. […]

I work on stories rather than individual pictures. But for me, this one picture was special: it’s an incredible shot of two guys trying to cap a well. They are completely covered in oil and one of them is standing like a statue that has become black over time. It reminds me of those images you see from the first world war, in the grey light of Verdun. The moment I took it, I knew it would be good. At the same time, I was very afraid. My mouth was dry. That evening, when I got back to my hotel in Kuwait City, I found my jaw was tense and my gums were in pain from gritting my teeth all day long. But I had to be there to take these pictures. I knew I was witnessing powerful, extraordinary things that would not happen again.”

Sebastião Salgado’s Best Shot, article from the Guardian.

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