One of the 30 best images of the year for EL PAÍS shows in the distance, at sea, a group of immigrants in his boat. They are just a few pinheads on a background of gray sky and water, lit in the orange of life jackets. The photo was taken by the reporter Olmo Calvo (Santander, 1982) for the AP agency last February. He made it at the water's edge, the same perspective of the hundreds of emigrants who drifted 90 kilometers from the Libyan port of Al Khoms, and just after a wave passed over the boat in which the photographer was sailing towards them .
"I was a little scared because I was afraid that the wave would have ruined my equipment, I said to myself: 'here all the work ends," the photographer comments on the phone. Cleaned splash your target 24-70 millimeters ("a very versatile optics, which allows you an angle to take distance and panorama in a very open plane, and at the same time something of zoom to get a face ") and, in half of the vortex of the rescue, had a moment of "minimum tranquility". "Then I thought of what image conveyed better the loneliness of those people facing the sea. "
The photo, says the author, replicates the same feeling he had and now evokes it: "That immensity, those people who looked where they looked at all they saw was water and waves, that rubber boat with an engine that is very difficult reach the Italian coasts … " In his heart, he asked that there be no serious injuries or corpses on board.
The snapshot was taken in a fraction of a second, but began to be forged just a year ago, on New Year's Eve 2017. Because to achieve an image like this one must first embark in Barcelona towards Malta and then travel built-in in a mission like that of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms who rescued immigrants from the image. They are missions in which bad weather plays tricks on rescuers and photographers. Calvo had to wait days and then weeks to reach the area and find a "meteorological window" (good sea for three days in a row) that augured the departure from the Libyan coast of the boats where the immigrants enter the sea and that, in addition , allow the rescue vessel to reach the boats safely.
When you offer the media a job about immigration and they respond to you 'is that we have already published a lot of this', I tell them: 'already, but it is still happening'
In the picture, taken from afar, the faces of the immigrants are not identified, but Calvo was able to see them when they were finally rescued. In this case he barely had time to get to know their personal stories, because that same day they were transferred to an Italian vessel. Even so, remember a woman who arrived distressed and crying. "Those close faces stay with you." One of the things that most impress him about his jobs in offshore rescues is the diversity of situations inside the boats. And, although Olmo Calvo is a photographer, the sounds: "In the same boat you find people, perhaps not fully aware, who smile, others who sing religious hymns or happy songs to children, other people cry of despair."
In circumstances as diverse as the migratory crises of the rohinyas persecuted, in Lesbos or the Balkans, the eye of Calvo captures a point in common: "Everyone is in that situation in a forced way, whether by poverty, insecurity or war." And how do you photograph that? "The context is long and we must build a discourse in two strata: the first is to tell the dynamism: the rescue teams taking people out or attempts to skip a border, but then the action goes down, the routine arrives, and You get closer to people, there you have to spend almost more time getting to know those people than to take the photo, which is sometimes something almost anecdotal in the relationship between photographer and photographer. "
Are you worried that the repetition of rescue images will end up getting used to the readers? "If there is a problem with that, it is often in the stale look of the person watching, although the sensationalism of some images is also abused," he says. "When you offer the media a job on immigration and they respond to you 'is that we have already published a lot of this', I tell them: 'already, but it is still happening'.
Understand, however, that readers demand diversity of news, but not for that, he observes, "we must stop taking these realities." "The stories we tell have by themselves enough dramatic charge to have to invent visual games, it is not worth doing anything to justify that people are bored and that you have to tell them differently so that it arrives."
The photographer freelance comment with humor that takes "years" paying autonomous. "Although in recent years, yes, I have not always been able to dedicate myself completely to photojournalism, but nobody ever offered me a contract." All in all, he sees advantages in working for free, although sometimes he loses "a lot of time and money" in coverage from which no salable image will come out. Others, on the other hand, Get photos that demand for many media. This has happened just a few days ago, again with Open Arms, in the rescue of a baby in Malta. "I do not want to give much importance to our precariousness, because it is true that photojournalists complain about our bad conditions, which are, but the situation is true for most workers. home with a backpack, without security, at any time, and at the end you see that it is something generalized, although I denounce it in my profession ".