Boston University Photojournalists Reflect On Marathon Mayhem

A slideshow of the students' coverage is on the Boston University News Service Web site.
A slideshow of the students' coverage is on the Boston University News Service Web site.

By Saba Hamedy

BOSTON, MA (April 26, 2013) – “If I don’t go to the action and shoot it, then who will?”

This is what photojournalist and Boston University senior Michael Cummo asked himself moments after a news flash notified the world about a bomb set off at the Boston Marathon. 

While most people ran far from the finish line, journalists – including B.U. students – ran toward it.

For them, it was a matter of instinct.

“You are human before a photographer but there is nothing you could have done to stop what happened,” said Scott Eisen, also a B.U. senior. “Your job as a journalist is to keep documenting it.”

“It kind of hit me that I’m a perfectly capable talented photographer and I’m in the city of Boston and it’s my responsibility to be out there as a journalist,” added graduate student Billie Weiss. 

Although Weiss considers himself a sports photographer, on Monday he set the label aside to join fellow journalists at Copley Square.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a sports photographer or a news photographer or a portrait photographer, when something like this happens if you are a photographer,” Weiss said. “You have to be there.”

Weiss and Cummo, who intern for the Red Sox, left Fenway Park upon hearing the news and went to as close as the scene as they possibly could.

In their case, this meant the 31st floor of the Westin Copley Hotel. 

They didn’t have keys. They didn’t have a room. They didn’t have press access. All they had was their journalistic motivation. 

With this drive, they decided to knock on doors until someone agreed to let them in.

“Eventually, two nice ladies finally did,” Cummo said. “They offered us shrimp cocktails and took photos of us taking photos.”

“The scene, the panic and the chaos didn’t affect me. If anything, it motivated me and gave me adrenaline,” he added.

But taking photographs of tragedies is far from easy.

For Eisen, in order to manage one’s emotions while capturing such incidents, it’s important to function “not being a robot.” 

“You need to feel emotion,” Eisen said. “But you need to channel it into how you take pictures, because when other people look at them hopefully they will feel the emotion you put into it, especially if it’s something traumatic.”

Eisen has experience shooting everything from murders to car accidents. 

“It gets to you, but you sort of become desensitized,” he said. “It’s healthy to be upset about it. You just have to be willing to talk about how you feel and don’t hold it in.” 

Cummo echoed similar sentiments, noting that a support system is necessary when digesting the aftermath.

“This is our home, this is where we live, and someone attacked us - no matter what, at the end of the day we are going to be shaken up, and that’s normal,” he said. 

“Shock and trauma like this is kind of like love – it can last however long you want it to, but it can also suck. Someone has to run into the place no one has to be, and we are fortunately and unfortunately those people.”

B.U. photojournalists’ work was featured in everything from campus media outlets, such as B.U. News Service and The Daily Free Press, to national news outlets, such as Reuters.