Behind the Images: Gaddafi is Dead

Ironically for a man who had claimed that the revolutionaries trying to topple him were rats and cockroaches, Moammur el-Gaddafi took his final refuge in a drainpipe. A French Mirage jet which had attacked and scattered the convoy in which he was trying to flee was responsible for the dictator taking such an ignominious abode, but it was in the hands of the angry mob of fighters who recorded his last moments on video that Colonel Gaddafi met his bloody end.

Desmazes' Screenshot

A variant of lead photograph, featured in many of today’s newspapers will bear the name of  Philippe Desmazes, an Agence France-Presse photographer. He was the only photographer in the area, when a rebel fighter pointed to where the deposed Libyan dictator had been captured, and another showed him mobile phone footage of a body, the one first broadcast by Al-Jazeera (below). “Are you sure it’s Gaddafi?” asked Mr. Desmazes, who subsequently made a grab from the footage and wired it.

In the coming days and weeks, there will no doubt be questions about who took the original footage, and whether we should credit photos to Mr. Desmazes only. The Times credited the photos to Mr. Desmazes and published them with an apologetic note: “It is an image of a man dead, or close to death, so harrowing that The Times would not normally publish it. But it records an historic moment — the end of the era of Muammar Gaddafi.”

The transitional Libyan government claims that Gaddafi was caught in crossfire, although the footage showed the badly injured, but undoubtedly conscious, former dictator being bundled on to the bonnet of a pick-up truck, his shirt being stripped from his torso and his body being dragged along the ground.

The photos of his body taken later, after it was driven to the neighboring city of Misrata, appeared to show bullet wounds to his head. The government maintains that the medical examiner could not say whether the bullet came from the revolutionary forces and the Gaddafi loyalists, but multiple sources claim that a New-York-Yankees-cap wearing twenty-year-old was responsible for Gaddafi’s demise. Mohammed El-Bibi later appeared brandishing Gadhafi’s gold 9mm gun in celebration, and told the BBC that he was the one who had found and captured Gadhafi and, as the dictator lie wounded, that he had snatched Gadhafi’s prized gun from him.

Later, fighters in Misurata surrounded the corpse, flashing the victory sign; Kareem Fahim’s photo for the New York Times (ab0ve) is eerily reminiscent of Che Guevera’s exit half-a-century earlier, but we can perhaps take solace in the fact that when the dust settles and the mystery surrounding his death clears, no one will be making a martyr out of Moammur el-Gaddafi.

Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters


Jack Hill, Libya

For a certain Arab dictator, endgame could not come soon enough. 

Earlier this year, Jack Hill covered the attacks on Benghazi

Yesterday’s fall of the crucial city of Zawiya to the Libyan rebels is a symbolic blow against the regime; one of the first towns to rise up, Zawiya was the scene of bitter fighting and brutal crackdown by the government during the early months of the Libya uprising. Control of the town will be huge boost to the rebels, many residents of the town who fled when it fell. It is also a signal that after the murder of the rebels’ army chief two weeks ago and fractional struggles and Islamic bedlam among the rebels in the East, the future of Libya will finally be decided in the west of the country.

Jack Hill, The Times‘ photographer, followed the rebels into Zawiya. Here he recounts an unusual predicament he often encounters in photographing the Libyan rebels:

We persuaded our guides to get up early and make the journey from the Nafusa mountains into Zawiya.

The rebels had made a breakthrough and we’d seen dramatic footage. Passing checkpoints on the road, I was encouraged by assertions that it was safe all the way to the bridge, an overpass on the Tripoli-Tunisia road that was a lifeline for the regime. We stopped and I began taking pictures. You have to be quick to get a photo of a fighter before you get the V for victory sign.

We got to the bridge, but we were advised against going further. A mournful prayer came from a mosque up the road, an an ambulance shot past. As I got closer I could see there were two dead fighters. We pulled back for several hours. Then an RPG exploded. The crowd seemed momentarily tense, but I raised my camera and up came the ubiquitous V-signs again.

If you google “Jack Hill, Libya”, there are only several hits — one of which is this blog’s earlier coverage of his work. All of his work is behind the solid paywall of The Times, and I think this put Hill at a disadvantage — although his photos from Libya are as good as, if not better than, others.

As paywalls thicken over the next few years, it is something photographers will need to ponder — paywall exclusivity or widespread publicity?