Random Photo From The Tom Archives

I’ve said before in previous posts that I wanted to include short posts of random photos from my past years of shooting.  Today is the first post.  These “Random Photos From The Tom Archives” have nothing to do with my oil field travels.  They may be images from long before then or they could be things shot since then but unrelated to my 30 days out.  These files just sit on my hard drives, rotting away with no real purpose beyond the enjoyment/excitement/interest I had in the moment I made them.  That makes me sad.  That’s like learning to play a song on the cello and then never playing it for anyone.  Art is meant to be shared.  I hope these images are worth the time you’ve given to look at them.


This photo is among my top 10 favorite of all time.  It is a very grounding image for me.  My $6k professional camera was stolen, leaving me with a consumer grade 2 Megapixel camera and a hacked together flash on a bracket for walk around.   lighting.  I had all of about 30 seconds to shoot this encounter before the radio on my hip came alive with orders to stop shooting.  This photo proves to me that a good photo is 90% being in the right place at the right time, and the remaining 10% is that you’re ready for it.  My big fancy pro-body and lenses would have made this image a little sharper and higher resolution but that isn’t what makes an image.  It is the composition and subjects in this image that stop me in my tracks.  The boat was rocking around as the men shifted around nervously waiting to see what we were going to do with them.  The man holding the water can – could you have a more desperate, pleading look?  All the different expressions on the faces around him only add to the tension.

I was aboard the USS Lake Champlain, a Guided Missile Cruiser, when we came across them during one of our operations in The Gulf.  On first contact, they did nothing.  No waving for help; not one man moved.  We were unable to stop but we did mark it on the map and came back to them the next day.  They had paid a man to get them out of their country and take them to Oman.  They originally left shore in two boats but at some point after they were out of site of land, one of the boats broke down.  The brass propeller had stripped out on the drive shaft of the motor.  The owner of the boats forced all the men into one boat and he left them.  The boat was overladen with 24 men in what should probably have only held 6.  The men were desperate for relief.  They had been told a lot of lies about the US and they were afraid of us.  In their minds we were the bad guy and would do horrible things to them.  This second encounter saw a much different response.  There was no breeze and the temperature was over 100F and equally humid.  They were waving their arms and shouting for help.  I was aboard the small boat we dispatched to investigate.  We learned they had been sitting in that little boat for 4 days and had long been out of water.  This photo was shot as we came alongside them.  Look at those faces…  Fear, confusion, thirst, embarrassment, hunger, relief, submission, and even defiance.  Most of the men had their attention on my buddies to the right of my camera.  They were the ones armed with guns.

Long story short, we tried to fix their boat several times but nothing we did was going to be reliable enough to send them back out on their own.  Due to wartime rules, we were not allowed to bring them aboard our ship so we brought them food and water.  We contacted the government of Oman and who responded with rescue boats.  I don’t know as fact but I was told when I received notice of declassification of this image that the men were not deported back to their home countries.  That would have meant death or severe punishment for them and their families.  I do know this:  In the span of a day, 24 men experienced the truth about the kindness and care of the people of the United States.  As we handed them off to Oman, our departure was very different from our meeting.  They were waving with smiles on their faces and some even shouted blessings to us.

I hope these men are safe and doing well and that they made enough money in Oman to pay to get their families brought over to them.

Ha!  I said this was going to be a short post.  Sorry.  A photo without getting some story behind it always frustrates me.


9 thoughts on “Random Photo From The Tom Archives

  1. Something about this picture just grabs my heart! The second I saw it on my iPhone I was almost in tears. I didn’t even know the story. Then I read it and was just even more captivated by this shot. Just amazing! Thank you so much for sharing every detail. It adds even more life to this awesome shot!


  2. Thank you for your comment. This one got me pretty good too. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings behind a camera when shooting troubling content. One of the reasons why I declined a career opportunity to become a Combat Photographer.


  3. This photo definitely pulls on the heartstrings. It’s so sad, and so real, things that go on every day, unbeknownst to anyone else. I hope they are all doing well and made it to Oman safely as well!


  4. Tommy, this is definitely one of my favorite of all your photos. I’ve gone back and looked at it several times. The desperate look in their eyes is not something easily forgotten. I’ve wondered many times whatever became of these men…especially the man in the middle.


  5. That photo will forever haunt me, wondering the same thing. I still remember that day as though it was yesterday. That really was my first encounter with a situation like that and it left quite the lasting impression. I remember getting back to the ship and opening the images from that day and having to lock the door to my little office just so I could let out some pent-up emotions. The look of that guy in the middle just broke my heart. I had never experience nor witnessed that kind of suffering before. It certainly opened my eyes at a young age as to the difference between the spoiled western life and that of what the majority of the people in the world encounter every day; I’m both blessed and cursed by this. Most Americans are merely spectators who’ve only seen such things through the insulated, false-reality of a TV screen.

    Liked by 1 person

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