Nicaraguan riot police charge university students to dislodge them from blocking traffic during riots that occured this thursday May 11. Students are protesting the rise in price in public transportation. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Today was a good day at the office. I was not there! Instead I was participating one of Nicaragua's national sports. We have several sports seasons here, baseball, football and my favorite student protests.
This thursday May 11 was the second day of protest and confrontations between riot police and university students.
This is as close to beeing in a shooting war without any fear of getting shot or killed. Students fire homemade black powder mortar bombs at police and police fire back rubber bullets and tear gas. Both sides are free to throw stones and rocks at each other when ever they please.
Well on a more serious note the best way to cover these riots or most riots is to get the proper gear and follow simple rules.
The first and most important rule is that you always need to be ready to move fast. What you considered a safe location at one moment can become the frontline or no man's land, in a running battle between police and students.
It is important to bring several pieces of gear with you that will give you certian sense of safety and and advantage over other photojournalists covering the riot.
A good helmet always comes in handy. Any rock climbing or bicycle helmet will give you adeqaute protection. Rocks and stones are always flying about during these confrontations and its always a good idea to protect you head.
If you can, bring a gas mask. Apart from your helmet it will give you great advantages in the field. One is that you will be able to see! When one finds oneself engulfed in a cloud of tear gas with no gas mask protection the first to thing to go is your eyesight. This becomes a major drawback, especially if your job is to take pictures of the event. A gas mask will let you work unmolested while other unprotected photojournalists will have to stop working and leave the area or become helpless in the middle of the melee. I myslef was rescued by a kind old lady after beeing blinded by tear gas in the middle a a confrontation between Costa Rican police and banana workers. Everybody was kind enough to stop fighting untill I was led out by the hand and out of harms way.
The other advantage of wearing a gas mask is that you can get out of harms way on your own. If you see the rocks or mortar bombs and molotovs coming your way then you can move out of the way if you have too.
Apart from a helmet and a gas mask a large bottle of water will be of invaluable use. Before, during and after a confrontation that water will always come in handy.
Things to keep in mind when in a riot.
Find out where the police and rioters are. In doing so you can pick a position either to get the pictures you want or get out. It is up to you when its time to get out, but if you see other photojournalist moving out its probably a good idea that you do too. Then again if you stay then you will get images nobody else has. Its up to you. Depends on how much expereince you have in these kind of situations.
As any good sports event a long lense is your main working lense. Zoom or telephoto, whatever fills your need. A good zoom lense 70-200 f/2.8 is preferable. A 300 f/4 is good also for a little extre reach. Anything bigger is a hindrance since its akward to carry and ads extra weight that will not help you if you have to get out of there in a hurry. An extra body with a wide lense is also a must since you do not want to be fooling around changing lenses when you need to be concrentated in the action.
Usually things will develope the following way. Sudents, rioters, will block roads or streets and will start vandalizing public and private property. Police will respond initially with a charge to dislodge the rioters and push them back to a safe area. And the tide will swing back and forth with student charges and police counter charges untill everybody tires out or mass arrests are made.
What you have to do as a photojournalist is simple. It is good to be in the area before the riots begins. Usally most everybody will know when and where trouble is brewing up. If you do not get ther before it happnes then your chances to get there will be hampered by the usual traffic snarls that occur when riots happen.
Once you are there, find out where both sides are. Most of the time students will be blocking street and in large groups and will be easy to identify. Police will arrive moments later in response to trouble. Once police come in, the shot of riot police charging in, to dislodge the students is always a winner. The phisycal effort, rocks, explosives, molotovs will be hurled at them. So get yourelf a good spot between the rioters and the expected police charge and wait it out. Be sure to cover your back with any structure, walls are prefereable but a sturdy telephone pole or tree trunk will do. You will hear it before you see it. Once you see it fire away. From then on you will be alternating between the counter charges by rioters and police. If you get a good spot where you are protected from rocks and other missiles then you good to go. Most of this stuff you will cover with your long lense, so why the wide angle on your other camera body?
You have to keep an eye for arrests and the injured beeing evacuated. Arrested rioters will be dragged out of harms way by police and you will be able to get in close with your wide angle lense to get more drama out of your shots. The same goes for injured people. First they will be on the ground, then they will be taken to safety for evacuation and there is where you can come in with you wide angle lense.
Before I forget, its a good idea always to go with a buddy. The buddy system has always helped me or my buddy when we got into trouble. When my good freind Kent Gilbert of the AP in Costa Rica got clobbered by a tear gas projectile in the forehead, I was the one who picked his bloody rear and got him to safety. My friend Oswaldo Rivas of Reuters in Nicaragua has always looked out for me and kept me out of beeing hit in the head by assorted missiles. The buddy system works.
So now I yakked fore ever on riots, Let me show you what I shot today. It sure was fun.
University students fire black gun powder mortar bombs at police during riots this Thursday May 11 in the streets of Managua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Nicaraguan riot police fire back with rocks at student demonstrators during riots this Thursday May 11 in the streets of Managua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Startgardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Nicaraguan students fire back a riot police durings riots this Thursday May 11 on the streets of Managua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Yep you guessed it. Riot police fire back. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Students use a trench at a construction sight to return fire at riot police. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
Radio communicaions revolutionized warfare during World War I. Cheap Motorola two way radios has revolutionized riot organisation in Nicaragua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyriht LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
A student fires glass marbles at police during this Thursday's May 11 riots in Managua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
A medic tends to a student shot in the knee by a rubber bullet during this Thursday's May 11 riots in Managua. Foto LA PRENSA/Tomas Stargardter / Copyright LA PRENSA - Tomas Stargardter
(See you get to use your wide angle lense at the end)
That all for today.