'We Care About Our Community': Photojournalist Talks Intrusiveness And Art When Documenting Tragedy

Mar 11, 2016

Reporters rushed to the scene of the shooting in Wilkinsburg in the early hours Thursday to document the shooting deaths and injuries of nine people. Among them, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review multimedia journalist Guy Wathen worked with fellow still photographers to give the paper's online readers a sense of the borough gripped by tragedy.

Wathen spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Larkin Page-Jacobs about his experience.

“When I get a call like I did on Wednesday night, I get a pain in the pit of my stomach,” Wathen said. “It’s a horrible feeling, going to a situation like that.”

Throughout his nearly 16-year career, Wathen said crime scenes like the one he found in Wilkinsburg share burdensome similarities. Neighbors pour out of homes looking for answers, each trying to assess what or who they might have lost, he said. 

“When I started this career, what really bothered me was seeing the victims, the bodies,” he said. “But now, what really gets to me and what I know I’m going to see there are the people that are grieving, the people who lost a loved one.”

Wathen said, in the moment, he struggles to put his own emotions aside. Instead, he tries to harness them, but being respectful is a constant challenge. Wathen said he often uses telephoto lenses to give people more space.

“A lot of times, the people are in such shock and such grief, they don’t even realize I’m there, and that’s my goal,” he said. “I’m trying not to be intrusive.”

Wathen acknowledged that crime scene photography is often likened to art, but he said he has trouble finding beauty in the gruesome aftermath of a shooting. Still, he said he soldiers on. He knows his work serves a purpose.

“People tend to attack the messenger; we’re called vultures, and I understand that reaction,” he said. “But I would like people to know that we’re not heartless. These things affect us, and we’re doing it for a reason… It’s because we really care about our community and the people in our community.”