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The Limits of Seeing



Haiti, Darfur, the Asian Tsunami of 2004, Katrina, the trafficking of human beings across foreign borders, coups, wars, and other horrors. We are taken to these places and shown inside views of these events by the photographs and videos captured by others. These images force us to take notice, become aware, pay attention to things we would rather not know existed. Who are these people who can stand amid such death and brutality and still maintain the presence of mind required to take the shot? Tim Freccia is one of those people. He began his career in Haiti, shortly after graduating from art school. Freccia has worked for USAID, PBS, CARE, Human Rights Watch, among others, and his work has been featured in such print publications as the New York Times and Business Week among others. Senior editor Lorna Tychostup interviewed freelance photographer/videographer Tim Freccia several days after his return from Haiti and hours before his departure for Mogadishu via Skype from Germany. The exchange is interspersed with excerpts from Freccia’s diary. Portfolio:


December: I arrived in Potsdam just in time for my 11-year-old daughter’s birthday and I’ve been drinking, eating, sleeping since. Came out of two weeks in Mogadishu to meet the Weinachtsmann [Santa Claus], see the magic in my children’s eyes, and reconnect with the wife who carries on valiantly holding together a family home that’s usually missing one member. This year is tight—my children got less for Christmas than years before. An iPod for my daughter and a camera for my seven-year-old son. I see the pride as he opens his present—he’s said he wants to be a photojournalist when he grows up. I don’t know how to explain to him that I carry the souls of dead people with me.

13 January: Holiday is getting long now. Dominic, my comrade in crisis and conflict says, “Days, and counting...” I’m due in Mogadishu next week and starting to detach. Can’t sleep, haven’t been able to sleep for days…for years. Dominic Skypes me: “Hey—how do I get to Haiti?” “Why would you want to go to Haiti?” He says, “Look at the wire.”

What countries have you been in and what have you covered?

I’ve been covering conflict and crisis for 25 years with breaks in between. I got serious about it again with the tsunami in 2004. As with Haiti, I arrived within the first few days and covered the tsunami for 10 months. My wife left me in the middle of it—we were talking, but my son had learned to walk and talk while I was away. So, I took 2006 off—spent the year reconnecting with my kids and trying to salvage the failed marriage. In 2007, I started getting itchy and a guy talked me into coming on as creative director for a startup media outlet. But less than six months into it I snuck off to Pakistan for a few weeks to do post-earthquake follow-up. He said, “You can’t go, we really need you here.” I said, “No, you don’t. This thing is already up and running. There’s nothing for me to do.” Sure enough when I got back they didn’t need me and I started migrating back into this again.

My next big story was child trafficking—Cambodia to Thailand—wild stuff. There’s a big casino complex in Poipet—a one horse, dirt road town on the border with a mega-big, modern casino complex. Asians go there to gamble and child trafficking is rampant. I got an amazing hidden identity interview with a Cambodian border official who stated, “Actually my commander’s involved.” Then I got an interview with his commander, on camera, saying, “There’s no trafficking here.”

After that I went home for a week. I had been pitching a story on security contractors. Not typical Blackwater guys—but a look at the other side. A German friend—a very quiet, sensitive dude—is a security contractor. He’s worked everywhere, seen everything, was based in Nairobi and had just taken a contract in Somalia. So, I went down there to start with him. Two days before I arrived four guys under his command were killed and the story got called off.

Since the last part of 2008 I’ve been migrating—based in Nairobi and commuting to Germany. But I’ve missed wedding anniversaries and birthdays. November 2009 I made my first trip to Mogadishu and got some really good photographs—everyone was talking about them so I decided to go back in one more time before going to Germany for Christmas. The second trip, I contacted the Transitional Federal Government military and asked to live with them. They agreed and that’s when I got these portraits of the president.

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