SXSW 2014 : When you see things that can’t be unseen

(Please note: there are photos posted after the jump from the tragedy at SXSW on 3/12/14 that may be disturbing.)

Austin, 3/11/14 – I had just finished shooting the ST. Vincent set at Stubbs. One of the most electric shows of SXSW, and the visuals that accompanied the off the chain guitar, made my night. She was incredible!


But one of the companies I was new to working with, had a venue a block away at the Mohawk. Music and signage. I stood outside Stubbs debating: go home, process the images and get em out, or continue on.

Had to press on.

With my Nikon D800 on the wrist strap and a 20mm lens in place, I set some exposure, and figured I’d get some late night crowded street shots outside of venues. I almost went under a rope to get closer to the sidewalk as I walked to the Mohawk. They dropped the rope so i stayed where I was, closer to the middle of one lane. The street was closed off and people lined up and milled about all over.

To my right, I heard the squeal of tires, and turned. A car that seemed to be going 70-80 miles an hour was screaming down the down, and the horror began. As i turned to my right one person was hit and almost simultaneously another on the other side. I can still hear The deadly thuds and screams as the car continued speeding down the block. After the person next to me was hit, the camera in my hand fired off a series of shots. You could see the police car enter the street and could probably time them by the sequence.

911 was busy, busy, busy. People rushed out to help friends, but I always thought the thing to do was not to touch them in case of trauma. I wandered through the street of innocents, broken and bloodied, and was in a daze. More photos were taken as I walked, still with phone to my head. The police and EMT’s had arrived, and I saw them tending to all and desperately trying to revive certain victims. Some iPhone videographer was asking questions, and everyone had opinions of what happened. Seems that a DUI suspect, fled the cops and went down a street that had been blocked to vehicles, but not well enough. More on that later.

2 blocks away the party continued. There was no sense of the tragedy. By the time I got back to the hotel, about 10 blocks away, I was numb.
Processing the experience was near impossible. I posted on my FB page what had happened but the CF card was still in the camera. Couldn’t face it right then. Hard to do now.
But what to do with the images? Could they be of use?
I contacted the police, and never heard back. The next day, I sent them a set of images. At least with a sequence of timestamped images, they can show how fast they were going in pursuit.
Still no response to this day.
So the question goes to photographers: What do you do? In war, the images are meant to tell us a story. The Kent State tragedy left us with an image burned into our memories.
The iconic My Lai Massacre photo, Nick Ut brought change, once people were confronted by the horror of Napalm, and the innocents destroyed by it.
This is not war. This is a horrific tragedy.
The camera was in my hand and I shot. Would I have reached into my bag to get a camera if it wasn’t in my hand? Probably not.
It was still very hard to look at the images again for this posting.

I can’t reconcile the lives of these poor innocents, just trying to hear some music and party, ripped apart in an instant.

What I do hope is that next year at SXSW, when a road is blocked off, NO vehicle can enter it, til the blockades are moved. In NYC before an event cement blocks appear ensuring no errant vehicles can enter. Maybe a policy of non-pursuit into a known crowded area. However, I don’t know all of the exact details of why that man drove into the crowd.

As a photographer, what would you do? We can discuss on the Photoinduced FB page, or comment here.

For the first time, I’m posting 2 images from that night. After the jump..



The next day, I had to pick up some additional credentials, and was back at the scene. Chalk marks delineated the path of the car. News vans littered the street.
I found out that I knew one of the people who died. His music company was in Austin, and was going to throw a big party the next night. Steven Craenmehr, 35, a father and husband, was tragically killed that night.

SXSW will be different next year.





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