Mount Pinatubo Volcano


Early June 1991, Mount Pinatubo Volcano in the Philippines started to wake up in all its intensity. I had been following the evolutions in the area since my first trip abroad, a six month long journey through the country, from the northern highlands to the turbulent southern islands. I witnessed a failed coup attempt, the struggles of two rebel movements, hunger and famine. My stays in the slum areas of Manila made me feel terribly uncomfortable and out of place in the beginning, but the joy of life and strong solidarity within the Pinoy community changed my perspective on life forever. So my interest in the Pinatubo was more than a 'hot story' I wanted to pursue.

When on June 15 the volcano sent a cloud of hot gas and ash over an area of hundreds of miles, my friend and fellow journalist Willy and I took the first plane to Manila. It was also the last plane to get in, since the clouds of ash forced the airport to close. We had to act fast, be creative and force some lucky breakthroughs if we wanted to get close. With some bluff, we were able to hop on board of a military helicopter and we flew straight to the area. The taxi we rented upon arrival got trouble with its air filter and it broke down on a deserted road, with the volcano now dangerously close. Luckily, we could hitch a ride with a 4x4 from an aid organisation and get to the more than 200.000 people who were fleeing their homes. The masks we wore give the image below an eerie contemporary look.

When we got back two weeks later after the airport reopened, I headed straight to my agency REA in Paris. I had shot the entire reportage on Fuji Velvia slide film and had the films sent from the Philippines with an airline crew I met in Manila. The films were developed at the agency, so I hadn't seen any immediate results. It made me feel quite uncertain. Upon my arrival, I was met with cheers and congratulations. My work had been sold to magazines all over the world and I was the hero of the day. From then on, assignments came in when I covered war and famine in Somalia, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda or the Congo.