On Sunday, June 2, photojournalist Antonio Bolfo of Reportage by Getty was injured in Istanbul after police forces fired tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters and press. Bolfo was in the Besiktas neighborhood, covering demonstrations, when one of the tear gas canisters struck and broke his leg.
Bolfo says he and photojournalist Nicole Tung had been covering the protests for two days and that during that time they “had numerous close calls of getting shot with gas canisters.” He adds, “The police were not always lobbing them at the 45 degrees as they are supposed to, they were shooting line drives at us. They were aiming at people and using the canisters as a weapon.”
Tung had already left the demonstration to file her images when Bolfo was struck. However, photographer Patrick Tombola, one of several photographers and reporters covering the event, had stayed behind with Bolfo and helped him to a triage station at a local mosque. Bolfo and Tung later flew back to New York City for his recovery.
Bolfo happened to arrive in Istanbul on Friday, May 31, the same day that police began violently cracking down on demonstrations. The protests had begun in Istanbul a week earlier, sparked by an announcement that a public park in Taksim Square was being turned into a shopping mall. The movement has now grown into civil unrest focusing on the Turkish government.
Prior to arriving in Istanbul, Bolfo had been covering the civil war in Syria for several weeks, and hoped to use the visit to Turkey for rest. Instead, he and Tung spent two days covering the demonstrations.
There have been reports of police targeting members of the press during the protests, which Bolfo found was the case on the ground. Bolfo, who is familiar with police force tactics after documenting the New York City Police Department in his series “NYPD: Operation Impact 1” and “NYPD: Operation Impact 2,” says that police are often following orders from higher level government officials. “I think officials in the U.S. are more willing to let peaceful protests run their course,” Bolfo explains. “They understand, from history, that using force against a peaceful demonstration usually causes trouble for any government … Once violence is unleashed, it is very hard to cap. In this case, I think the police violence towards a peaceful sit-in is wrong. But I also understand that the police then need to react aggressively towards violent protesters to protect themselves and people’s property. It becomes a vicious cycle that is very hard to end.”
His advice to photographers planning on covering the protests in Turkey: “Once projectiles start flying, get to cover. It sucks being taken out of a story because of injury, or worse.”
*Update: Reporters Without Borders reports that photographer Mathias Depardon was injured in Istanbul on June 11 while covering police attempts to clear Taksim Square of protesters. Depardon said a projectile fired by police (he said he was unsure what the projectile was) struck his mask.
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2012 Marty Forscher Fellowship Fund Professional Winner: Antonio Bolfo
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