Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice has said, "It's important to be human first, photographer second." Professional photographers walk a fine ethical line between observers and active participants. They tread the rockiest part of this terrain in war zones.
In the bloody aftermath of a deadly suicide bombing on Saturday, Syrian photographer and activist Abd Alkader Habak stopped taking photographs in order to save lives.
Habak was working in Rashidin, an area in the outskirts of Aleppo, when the nearby blast threw him off his feet, knocking him out. When he regained consciousness moments later, Habak decided that photos could wait and ran toward the decimated convoy of buses that had shortly before been a chance at safety for civilian refugees.
"The scene was horrible — especially seeing children wailing and dying in front of you," he told CNN. "So I decided along with my colleagues that we'd put our cameras aside and start rescuing injured people."
The first child Habak tried to help was already dead and as he ran toward another child of about 6 or 7, someone yelled after him that this boy had been killed, too. However, Habak saw that he was struggling to breathe.
Picking up the critically-injured child, Habak made a dash back to safety, during which he said the boy was "firmly holding my hand and looking at me." Habak left him with an ambulance and ran back to help other children. He told reporters that he did not know if the boy was still alive.
When he tried to save another child, only to discover that they were already dead, Habak sunk to the ground in grief and an unknown photographer caught the heartbreaking image on camera. Muhammed Alrageb, another photojournalist on the scene, began taking pictures again after helping to get civilians to safety. It was he who captured Habak's initial frantic dash toward the the ambulance with the first boy he found alive.
"I wanted to film everything to make sure there was accountability," Alrageb said to CNN, adding that he felt proud to see fellow journalists at the scene helping save lives. Visit the CNN article linked above for Alrageb's photograph.
The BBC reports 126 people were killed in the suicide bombing over the weekend. At least 68 were children.
"I was overcome with emotion," said Habak. "What I and my colleagues witnessed is indescribable."
The world feels quite the same way after witnessing Habak's decision amidst the carnage. He and his colleagues have shown that, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, it is certainly not worth a life.