Published November 23, 2013
Guttenfelder, who is the chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press news agency and a frequent National Geographic contributor, read about it on Twitter while traveling in a car from the capital city of Pyongyang to the far northeast corner of the country, near the Russian border.
"There's 3G service in North Korea now, weirdly ... [and] I started to read about the scale of the destruction," Guttenfelder said. "I saw a picture someone had tweeted of the typhoon taken from space, which was really amazing."
But it wasn't until he saw another tweet, about the death toll from the typhoon, estimated to be in the thousands, that Guttenfelder knew he needed to see the devastation firsthand. "My job was to cover major events in Asia, so I knew I had to go," Guttenfelder said.
Shortly after, Guttenfelder was on a flight from Pyongyang to China, then to Japan, then to the capital city of the Philippines, Manila. From there, he hitched a ride with a military aid aircraft to Tacloban, the city hardest hit by the typhoon.
Since arriving, Guttenfelder has tried to focus on aspects of the disaster in the Philippines that have been overlooked in the popular press. He took pictures in Tacloban, but also traveled outside of the city to document how the disaster has played out in more remote villages.
Another major theme that's arisen in Guttenfelder's photographs is the resiliency and general good cheer of the Filipino people in the face of the disaster.
"It's almost confusing because people are so good-natured here," Guttenfelder said. "People laugh and are happy, even though their lives are just destroyed. They've built basketball hoops in rubble and play pickup games, and people watch and cheer.
"Filipino people have an incredible spirit and an incredible way of moving on. If it were any other place in the world, it would be so different."
We reached Guttenfelder in the Philippines and spoke to him about his experiences.
Where are you now?
I'm in the city of Tacloban, which is the biggest city that was wiped out by the typhoon.
What is it like in Tacloban now?
It's just a complete wasteland. It looks like a nuclear bomb went off and flattened the place. Nobody has power. There were bodies everywhere when I got here—on the road from the airport into town, just body after body.
Everybody's just wandering around trying to build some type of structure out of anything they can salvage.
And every day it rains for at least part of the day. And the people have nothing and they're just soggy.
I went to a church service recently and the roof was gone, and people were sitting in the pews praying and holding umbrellas because it was raining down on them.
What is the mood like in the city now?
You just can't exaggerate the good-natured, positive spirit of the people in this country. At the very least, they've lost everything they own, and at the very worst, they've lost members of their family, but they're still upbeat and positive.
There was a protest march recently, but it wasn't a protest against the government. It was a march to encourage everybody to be brave and to hang in there. They were carrying signs that said "we shall overcome."
I saw a guy carrying his kids on his shoulders, and people were wearing wigs. They were just having a blast, even though it was raining and they were walking past bodies.
Why did you feel it was important to photograph what was happening outside of Tacloban?
There were no other villages being covered in the beginning, really. Everyone was focused on Tacloban, mainly because of logistics and the size of the city.
If you're an independent photographer or if you're a media organization and you only have one person, it would've been natural to focus on Tacloban. But I work for Associated Press, so we have a big crew of people. And because I got here a bit later, I thought I'll just go and try to find out what the scale of the damage in other cities was in comparison to Tacloban, and if people were receiving aid or not.
For the most part, I think people are getting aid. The immediate worries of emergency medical evacuations and hunger are probably stable. But the scale of the disaster is just so immense that now it's hard to imagine how they're going to move on to the next step.
You're also posting some of your pictures to Instagram. Can you talk about that?
I've been using Instagram a lot in the past year. I started doing it as a personal diary, but it's become a very important part of my photojournalism and for communicating with people.
I feel like I'm reaching people directly, especially Filipino people. They can post comments, and I can comment back.
As a photojournalist, what are you looking for as you travel around Tacloban and the Philippines?
I first try to put the disaster into context and to show the overwhelming immensity of it. And then I try to show how people are surviving. I'm really focused on how refugees and displaced people are getting by.
And because of the way Filipino people are, I tend to focus a lot on their resiliency. You just can't exaggerate the good-natured, positive spirit of these people. It's like their natural identity is to smile. The hardest thing here is to take a photograph that doesn't have a child grinning from ear to ear in the background.
And the people here totally get what I'm trying to do. Nobody's asked me to please give them water; they're saying take a picture of me so [aid organizations] bring me water. I went to a village and people were saying, "Help us, put us on Facebook!"
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No matter how violent is the typhoon,
Our Faith must go on.
Despite Our Grief on the Aftermath
No Death can tear us Apart.
Hope and faith run in Filipino veins as natural as blood does. It makes us who we are. Resilience is a by-product. Many things have tried to crush and conquer us in the past and failed. Countries bent on colonization, corrupt dictators and thieving governments, and catastrophic natural calamities that make our country part of their paper route have all tried and failed. By the grace of God we have survived and still continue to survive all of these. Many may think our smiles make us weak and naive but they are wrong. For the smile you see on the face of every Filipino is a smile of strength wrought from the furnace of our struggles and it is a smile we share gladly to the rest of the world. In spite of all of these our warm smiles will continue to welcome those who come to our shores in peace. As for those who will attempt to conquer us, steal from us and think our smiles are as sign of weakness and naivete' - beware. Our smile will be the last thing you see before we send you to oblivion. We are Filipinos.
Hope is all we've all got. We of course know that as we've failed in so many ways, for so many reasons, in logistically distributing the donations (something we really have to work on the future), what the world needs to look into is on how our government would seriously rebuild the country without the necessity of being reminded that there is still an issue of graft and corruption that needs to be resolved. Without further being reminded equally, that corruption may also occur in the rebuilding process, if we all fail to remain vigilant. Such a horrible environment to live, isn't it. People suffer in pain and yet we continuously step on egg shells.
Ahora la palabra resiliencia toma para mi un significado, y vaya significado. Impactante el último párrafo, nadie le pidió agua, sólo le pidieron que les hiciera fotos y que las subiera al facebook. Que les mantengamos en el objetivo de la noticia para que la ayuda humanitaria fluya.
they survive on nearly nothing even before the typhoon,i was in manila the year before
and thousands live on the street in the parks on the beaches,maybe 50,000 maybe more
they beg but few people give them anything, there are millions in poverty
when your born with nothing and live with nothing,you cant lose much
if you want to help send money directly to Philippines as they can do more with $1
they could feed 5 people,you could not do that in the usa,i would not even send goods
I don't know how honest these are
Other nations may find it weird seeing us filipinos smiling after a disaster. But, this is who we are. We still find a reason to smile and be thankful. Maybe because we were raised this way. What keeps us going and smiling is our faith and trust that after a storm comes the rising and smiling sun. Seeing and feeling the love, help and concerns from almost all over the world, gives us more reason to show the world our biggest and best smiles saying Maraming salamat po. :)
this is what we are Pinoys.... we can have Fun, even on the worst time of our lives....so reselient,,,, and proud to be one of this race. Palaban sa buhay, tatayo sa pagkadapa, ng may ngiti sa pisngi. Thank you world for the help.
I remember watching the japanese tsunami and nuclear plant catastrophe victims thinking, what a great people! the japanese are so disciplined even in the face of disaster. i don't think any other nation could behave as graciously as the japanese did when they experienced the 9+ magnitude quake with tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
then haiyan happened, and the world saw another way of dealing with tragedy. for the filipinos, it's learning to smile in spite of what happened.
Thank you ....for the kind words of acknowledgement.....for sharing your insights as a photographer ....for being there to tell the world what resiliency, moving on, and life really meant. It is effortless for us to show this because that is our being, our meaning to existence. The Philippines also brought out the best in all nations. We hope that other nations learn from us because this learning experience costs us a lot to sacrifice. Thank you world for all the help you extended to us. It made moving forward much faster as we all know we are being pulled up to rise from the debris.
Thank you for documenting the other side of the news. This gives us hope and more reason to smile...That smile coupled with faith is what makes us Filipinos go on despite whatever disaster comes our way. To the international community, thank you for coming to our aid when we needed it the most. We will always be grateful.
Though there have been many setbacks here in the Philippines, thank you very much for acknowledging our good trait. We'll definitely overcome this. And on behalf of the Filipino people, I want to thank everyone who prayed and gave their support to us. This will greatly help us.
Thank you for acknowledging our trait. It's been taught to us by circumstances that we can neither control nor change. And there's been a lot of that in the Phil. We've been taught to move on and leave the things we don't have the power to change. 'Que sera, sera' is our favorite song. ;-)
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