“If you do this long enough, you will eventually find yourself in a bad situation”
Freelance photographer Moises Saman’s pictures from Iraq made the cover of The New York Times both days last weekend. Taken in May and June 2008, as the Sunni Awakening movement took hold, Saman’s photos were chosen to accompany the Times’s reporting on the Iraq War Logs provided to them by WikiLeaks. It was something of a coup for the photographer, but there was no time for a pat on the back—on Saturday, Times contract photographer and Saman’s colleague João Silva was seriously injured after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan. Saman spoke with CJR assistant editor Joel Meares about Iraq, Silva, and his life capturing war. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Q: How did you get the shot?
A: For most Shiites in the area who are observant, their last wish is to be buried in Wadi-us-Salaam cemetery in Najaf, which some say is the largest cemetery in the world. It was a particularly bloody day in Sadr City and I spent most of the afternoon in the morgue—it was one body after another being brought down. There was a brother of the man whom I photographed there, and the man who was washing his body, and somebody helping him. It was kind of difficult to get into that room, especially as a foreigner. If you’re not Muslim, being present in this very private situation takes some work. I was working with our local translators and journalists from the Times, and they were able to get me in. We spent several hours there and we spoke with the morgue officials and explained what we were trying to do. As I said, it was an especially bloody day and we wanted to depict that. You had to introduce yourself and see if they were okay with me taking pictures while they were in a very intimate moment.