Risking his life consistently, he jumped freight trains in Mexico to go after a story– the migration of kids to America. Years previously, he covered another crisis: the arrival of countless Vietnamese evacuees at Camp Pendleton after the fall of Saigon.
Don Bartletti, who retired Nov. 25 after 31 years at the L.a Times, understands migration and refugees like the back of his Canons.
“No wall, no doctrine can stop humankind,” Bartletti stated. “It’s as old as history itself. Individuals made use of to go after the herd across the horizon for food. Now we’re chasing the almighty dollar.”.
After participating in Vista High School and Palomar College, the boy of a career Marine enlisted in the Army in 1968 and went to Officer Prospect School in Fort Benning, Ga.– intending to be in charge rather than file to the “nimrods” he saw in standard training.
Although he took a basic image class at Palomar, he didn’t purchase his first electronic camera– a Nikkormat for $90– up until he remained in Vietnam. (He added a $250 Nikon F before he left.).
He began his photojournalism career with three years at The Vista Press, a year at the Oceanside Blade-Tribune and a 1977-1984 stint at what became the Union-Tribune.
Bartletti, now 69, went on long image trips, consisting of a three-month trip to Central America with a Union reporter, using the Spanish he learned in school. The anxieties caused the breakup of his first marriage after 18 years. He later on met Donna Rice, a topic of a story he was covering, and has actually been wed to her for 25 years. He has a grown boy and child, 40 and 41, and 4 grandchildren.
At the Times, he won many of his 40 worldwide awards, consisting of one he rewards the most– an Overseas Press Club honor for writing. His feature-photography Pulitzer followed his train-hopping trip of 2000. He also won the Robert F. Kennedy journalism award twice and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2015 for “Product of Mexico,” a Times investigation into Mexican mega-farms.
In retirement, he’s planning a photo book called “The Roadways Many Took a trip,” which he calls a visual record of the causes and penalties of undocumented migration from Mexico and Central America to the United States.
In a Q-and-A, the most decorated photojournalist in county history reflected on his Pulitzer-winning profession and the present political debate.
This interview has actually been modified for length and clarity.
What experiences in Vietnam formed your photographic or social consciousness?
I was an infantry officer, and I was appointed to run convoys of bombs, helicopter jet fuel approximately this plateau on the DMZ … which was extremely hazardous since we were ambushed a lot. It taught me to attempt to organize confusion. And the confusion is the whole 360-degree scene, which can be jungles, rivers, mountains, smoke, clouds, dirt, mud, tracks– whatever. Attempt to focus on what is very important to keep me alive. In photojournalism, I do the same thing– just I’m not pushing the shutter to kill anyone. This time, everybody lives forever.
How were you received when you returned from Vietnam?
My partner chose me up at San Diego Airport when I first flew house. Increased to a hotel in Mission Valley, next-door to the Union-Tribune, which was in 1971. Increasing the elevator, one male stated: “Welcome house.” I just broke down in splits. That was the last welcome-home comment I got for Three Decade. In truth, it got even worse.
I went out to visit my old image instructor, Justus Ahrend, at Palomar College. And I was walking by the student union and kids were sitting outside having lunch. And they took a look at me, and one person whispered: “Hey, is that a jarhead?”– since my head was still shaved. So there was a disparaging mindset currently.
Now I understand why young people are asked to be soldiers– because, like me, promoting myself, I didn’t know exactly what the fuck was going on. I didn’t honestly give a shit. I just wanted to stay alive, so I trained myself to be the best killer I could. So I could live.
Did you ever have PTSD?
You know, I saw awful things in Vietnam … simply horrible things. But when I returned, it took me probably a year not to jump when the doorbell called or car backfired. It took me possibly 6 months to go comfortably over 40 miles an hour in a car. Everything was slow speed and terribly noisy in Vietnam. There was confusion everywhere. But I didn’t shoot anyone in the head. I didn’t lop off any ears. I didn’t shoot or kill any infants.
A few of my fellow soldiers were killed near me, but I didn’t see it take place. But I tell ya– I have a viewpoint about PTSD. It’s a result of horror beyond belief and it’s spontaneous. You can’t stop thinking of it. It gets ingrained in you. Domestic abuse will do that.
However I believe there are a lot of Vietnam veterans who are full of shit– due to the fact that I served with primarily draftees, and many of the truck motorists in my company were from Appalachia, Tennessee– not to disparage any group of people in that nation. However in impoverished areas. They signed up with or they were prepared due to the fact that they were not in school. They joined since they didn’t work. They were drafted because, they were just roaming.
Well, they returned from Vietnam to the same hopeless future. To discover sympathy with them, sure. We were doing that as a country. We attempt not to leave them on the street. However a lot of these Vietnam veterinarians are full of crap.
In May, you reunited with the topic of a well-known image you took 40 years back at Camp Pendleton– a 5-year-old Vietnamese woman with her 109-year-old great-grandmother. Did you have the same experience of closing the circle when (Times press reporter) Anh Do had the ability to track her down?
Don Barletti, Vista Press.
Tran Thi Nam, age 109, with her 5-year-old great granddaughter Ha Hoang, at the Vietnamese refugee center at Camp Pendleton, on June 12, 1975.
It certainly did. Because I think one of the responsibilities of reporters is not simply to mark the minute however utilize it as a foundation to watch modification. OK, what’s coming next? The story doesn’t end with a thousandth of a 2nd shutter speed. It’s just the start of it.
So to find her again was amazing– both aesthetically, to see that same little cherubic face now 40 years later on and discover her story. Did she become an American? Was she as a refugee able to discover a brand-new life? Yeah, she did.
Among the most viral images in photojournalism history was a Syrian child dead on a Turkish beach, and it awakened the world to the refugee crisis. And now we have this pushback as an outcome of Paris and San Bernardino. What did you think about the initial response to the image? And what is your reaction to the pushback?
My reaction to the picture was right in line with millions of people. They saw this innocent youngster, using brand-new athletic shoe, lying face down in the sand. Only the most coldhearted person would not feel some relationship to it. And if it got that goddamn bad, well, we ‘d much better begin taking a look at it.
To have the kind of enthusiasm that you need to record immigrant/refugee experience implies that you have to have a sense of right and incorrect. And can there be, from your perspective, a journalist who does not have a revealed outrage, preference for one policy or another?
Picture by Don Barletti, L.a Times.
Each year in the vast migration to the United States thousands of migrants like this Honduran boy, photographed in 2000, stash through Mexico on the tops and sides of freight trains.
I do not believe any reporter can run without an opinion– since we are so deep into each side, speaking for myself. When I’m on the immigrant tracks of Mexico or in the barrios of coming down communities, I get it. I see why they wish to leave. Most likely must leave.
When I’m in the elementary schools in north San Diego County and I see 80 percent of the children with Hispanic names eating breakfast at their desk, being served lunch, and all teachers being multilingual– I have actually been informed it’s a financial stress on the school system. Using my town of Vista as an example.
I understand both sides of the issue. I’ve taken pictures with tears in my eyes. I’ve been infuriated at rallies on this side of the border where students from Santa Ana High School stomped on the American flag, prompting migration reform.
However as a reporter, I’m not namby-pamby. I’m not in the middle. I’m not afraid to show the harshest of both sides– due to the fact that my job as a photojournalist is to offer YOU a choice. If you see those images, if you check out those stories, then you’re the one that’s got ta make the modification– if one, in your opinion, is required. I’m not an advocacy journalist. I cannot be, because then I would run the risk of alienating one side and limiting my access.
Have you felt you’ve made a damage in the awareness of the public to advance the agenda of more rights for refugees or immigrants?
Photo by Don Barletti, Los Angeles Times.
Clinging on to completion of a boxcar, Santo Antonio Gamay, 25, shows the fatigue and stress of his 15-hour experience riding a freight train in 2003. He’s minutes from jumping off and making another effort to outrun Mexican authorities. The Honduran has been jailed three times at Mexico’s Tonala, Chiapas checkpoint and deported to the Guatemala border.
I think I have. And I have not promoted myself as being an advocate for one side or the other. And I wish to declare that. I’m not attempting to state that the L.A. Times does not have an opinion, because we do.
But by staying in touch with individuals who are leaving the corruption of Central America and Mexico, I believe the message is: Hey, Central America and Mexico, get off your frickin’ corrupt ass and do something here. And Donald Trump is shrieking at them, too. I am not a political leader of that bent.
But on this side of the border, when I see immigrants prospering and bringing their happy culture, language, food and art, I think: My God, this is wonderful. I feel so unpleasant when I go to Seattle or Portland since it’s quiet in a restaurant, and they’re all white people. I come back to L.A. and– yahoo! Look at these different individuals.
That’s the excellent experiment that California is. So my work in progressively recording this. I wish to show my descendants how they possibly got to where they are. Why are we such a blended community? Well, back in 1976 down on the border the fence was a strand of barbed wire, beaten into the mud by numerous feet. Numerous feet that needed a better life, a chance.
What photos, individual minutes, have you missed out on in your profession that you ‘d love to have back?
Oh, gosh. I’ll tell you one. I was commuting to Orange County, and I was going through the Border Patrol checkpoint at San Onofre on I-5, … and I remain in the quick lane, and I look over 4 lanes, and sitting, being guarded by Border patrolman on a bench, was a female wrapped in an American flag, searching for at the officer. Now I attempted to pull over, and by that time I was beyond. Had I turned around in the Border Patrol parking lot, they would have … jailed me. But the meaning was breathtaking. A female, I presume, was undocumented.
Einstein and other researchers do their finest work in their 30s. But you did some of your best work in your 50s and 60s. Is there anything in photojournalism that is beyond your ability now?
Photo by Don Barletti, L.a Times.
A Mexican kid and lady look toward a freight train full of northbound stowaways as they race their horse along the railway. This unexpected moment, caught in 2003, brought yelps of delight from the young Hondurans holding on to the top of the moving train.
It’s physically more demanding. I get tired more typically. When I drive fars away, I get drowsy. Physically, I’m still in great shape. I don’t have arthritis. I’m not as thin and lithe as I used to be. However I utilize my time a little bit more carefully. I handle my time better.
Why ‘d you take the (L.A. Times) buyout?
I’m 68. I was at the paper 31 years. My dream was to leave the paper at age 70. I ‘d have a going-away celebration on the leading floor of the Bonaventure Hotel. Go out on my own terms. Ya know, sum up my profession in 15 minutes and express my happiness to the craft and to my colleagues.
However to be offered one year’s pay, and then to work another year beyond that … would not have actually given me what I now have. And that’s a chance to do a book about my 35 years of experience documenting U.S.-Mexico relations, the border, migration causes and consequences. So NOW I lastly can come home– since after work I was too exhausted. On the weekends, I was too obsessed with chores around the house and other things that charge my batteries. So I can never ever make much headway on a book while I was recruited.
What are the upsides and drawbacks to the present digital photography explosion?
The benefit to it is if every person can be a reporter– and he’s faced with a situation of fantastic historical value– thank God that more people have electronic cameras. Researches have shown, however, that when a set of photos were laid in front of topics, audiences, they undoubtedly preferred images made by a professional photojournalist. Isn’t that intriguing? And that was outcome of structure, angle, subject matter, timing, the moment, framing.
So I think photojournalists who produce images like you see in the L.A. Times and the National Geographic and Geo magazine in Germany and throughout the world will constantly have an appeal to individuals. But this is what I’ve seen: When I view individuals across a cafe checking out a paper, they’ll look at a picture for possibly a 2nd or less.
As a monetized part of the news market, exactly what is the future of photojournalism?
Yeah, it’s an outstanding concern since it’s a costly forum of expression. Most likely costs more than it would for a reporter to go to the scene. The professional photographer has to linger. On all my stories, I remained 2 or 3 times as long, acquiring to or three times the expenditures. The equipment and the upkeep, and printing photos is way more pricey. Keeping digital files is more pricey.
The future of it depends on: Can we sell and make money to support this terrific, remarkable craft? Whether it’s going to sustain itself in print, I have no idea. I walk through Barnes & & Noble’s publication department and I see thousands of fuckin’ publications, and they all are plastered with pictures.
So I do not think the discipline of photography in general will ever disappear. However I do believe its future in newspapers will thrive and bloom on the internet. And I believe it’s passing away in print. In One Decade, I don’t believe you’ll be able to take a seat at your breakfast table, like I treasure doing, and read the paper.
This article associates with: News, Q-and-A.
Composed by Ken Stone.
Ken Stone, a freelance author and blogger, is a contributing editor at Times of San Diego.