Arts & Culture

Photography in the Thick of Things

BY Joshua Philipp TIMENovember 13, 2008 PRINT

Debbie Egan-Chin is a professional photographer with New York Daily News. After winning two awards in the first Annual Epoch Times International Photography Competition, The Epoch Times (ET) conducted an interview with Debbie to discuss her work.

Chosen for their original themes, subtle emotion, and artistry, one photo, “I Miss You Dad,” won the 3rd prize in the Social Division, while “Safe Exit” won the Good Photo award.

I MISS YOU DAD:  A young girl, Alexa, holds her head against a photo of her father whom she's never met. He was a firefighter who lost his life on September 11.  (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)
I MISS YOU DAD: A young girl, Alexa, holds her head against a photo of her father whom she's never met. He was a firefighter who lost his life on September 11. (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)
Epoch Times: Could you tell me the story behind your photo “I Miss You Dad”?

Debbie Egan-Chin: That is an amazing story. That little girl’s name is Alexa. The mother was five months pregnant with her on Sept. 11, and her father was a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center that day. So here’s this little girl who hasn’t even met her father because he died before she was born.

That picture, I took on Sept. 10 [2008]. There were other people who had lost family members on Sept. 11 and there was this little memorial garden they had out by their house. I was able to meet them there. Again, she was just wonderful. She was only 6 years old, and I was just meeting her.

I was like, “Oh, is that your daddy?” because she was showing me the picture. I was kneeling down, trying to get the right angle because she’s just a little girl, and she kind of like bent her head down, and it was great, because again, I like moments to be real—to be able to capture something real.

ET: What do you feel that photo conveys? For you, what was it?

Debbie: Again, it’s just all about feelings, emotions, and consecutiveness. We all feel that way about our dads, or at least, not all, but here, it’s tragic because just talking with her and seeing her, she loves her dad and she’s never even met him.

ET: What about your other photo, “Safe Exit”?

SAFE EXIT: After extracting a baby from a building where an armed dispute had taken place, a firefighter cares for the child, holding it under his jacket to keep it warm.  (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)
SAFE EXIT: After extracting a baby from a building where an armed dispute had taken place, a firefighter cares for the child, holding it under his jacket to keep it warm. (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)
Debbie: They’re both totally different situations. The “safe exit” was a spot news job. What I do for my job is basically drive around in my car and listen to the police and fire scanners. You’ve got to get there the same time as the emergency technical people. You can’t get there later than that.

The safe exit came over as a hostage job. There were children involved in a landlord-tenant dispute where the landlord pulled a gun on the tenant. The guy with the gun had gotten away, I think, before the police surrounded the house. That’s why it’s safe exit. No one got hurt.

We were shocked because we thought it was two men and possibly a woman and child—then to see the baby. I was watching the front of the house, and I was trying to get as close as I could, but the police are like our safety. They weren’t going to let us go down this block, and I was a little frustrated.
Then I had to run into the middle of the street because I saw them carrying the baby, and I was like, “Ah, the baby!” I almost got arrested taking that because I had to break under the police barricades and just run down the street. They were just like, “Get back! Get back! Get back!” And I was just like, “No. There’s a baby. I think I kind of have to run for it.”

I had no expectation or anticipation. It was just a question of hearing what was going on and reacting to it and getting closer to it.

ET: In terms of the elements of the photo, what were you trying to convey through the photo when you took it?

Debbie: I just wanted to get as close to the action as possible. I was anticipating that they would get the guy with the gun, have him in shackles, and bring him out—not that they would carry out a newborn baby. And the fireman—how they [all] were sheltering the baby and protecting the baby—since it was a little bit cold, he was holding the baby under his coat. It was just a beautiful moment.

ET: What happened with the police yelling for you to get back behind the barrier?

Debbie: Well, I was wearing a press pass and I had all these cameras.

What I thought was going on was about half a block down the street, and I thought, “Wow! They’re bringing out the kids out of the back,” and I realized I had positioned myself in the front where all the S.W.A.T. team was going in. So I had to just crawl under the barricade and run down the street, and it was all police with their guns out, saying “Get back, get back.”

I kind of like pushed through these two cops, took my pictures, and they were like, “You’ve got to get back,” but I had already gotten my picture.

ET: When I was learning photography, one of my teachers told me that you have to be daring to be a photographer; you can’t be passive. Do you have any comments on that?

Debbie: I couldn’t agree more with that. What I feel the responsibility of is that the picture that I’m taking—if there are 2 million readers in New York who read the New York Daily News—I’m kind of like their eyes on witnessing this event. That kind of gives me a sense of a right to be there.

There are so many people in various situations in any kind of crime scene or fire scene who are like, “You can’t take pictures. You’re not allowed to take pictures. Don’t take pictures.” And I hear it all day long, every day.

If you don’t want your picture taken, sit in your house with your blinds closed and nobody will take your picture. If you’re out on a public street in New York City, I have every right to take your picture. People don’t know the law.

Also, you don’t know how big of an event it’s going to be until after the fact. You hope your pictures can help people. I’ve had different situations where the fire department would say, “Everyone who shot pictures at this building collapse, please submit them,” so that the fire marshal can comb through every picture, and maybe they’ll see some little piece of evidence or something that will help them.

They know how we’ll get [pictures]. I’ll go up on the rooftop, or if someone tells you, “No, you can’t stand here,” you try to find another [way]. You can’t just leave.

Joshua Philipp is an award-winning investigative reporter with The Epoch Times and host of EpochTV's "Crossroads" program. He is a recognized expert on unrestricted warfare, asymmetrical hybrid warfare, subversion, and historical perspectives on today’s issues. His 10-plus years of research and investigations on the Chinese Communist Party, subversion, and related topics give him unique insight into the global threat and political landscape.
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