Photograph by Frank Fournier 1985
I remember seeing this photo years ago, probably in 1985 when my own first daughter was born. I was not focused on world events at that time and consequently I did not remember the details of the photo. It was, however, in my memory. I have over the past twenty some years placed more importance on world events, and find this photograph of Omayra Sanchez both comforting and haunting. This photograph brings about a degree of artistry because it allows us to see the unimaginable, by stopping time. It is when a photograph excels its event, that it becomes art.
When I viewed this photograph for the first time since 1985, I saw a child up to its neck in muddy water. As I continued to pour over the detail I became aware that the child was a beautiful young girl, when I noticed she had earrings in her ears. I admired her jet black hair in tight ringlets. Her eyes were as dark as coal, the color of the skin of her face is dark, and I think that she is from South America. I noticed she had dark circles under her eyes, and looked tired. I observed her hands. The skin was deeply wrinkled, which told me that they had been wet for some time. I made a mental note of the cloth tied around the pole that was lying flat; the one that Omayra was hanging on to. It seemed to me that it was also tied to her wrist. Odd I wondered. Why would that be!
It is the story that accompanies the photograph that haunts me. This young girl, Omayra Sanchez, was only thirteen years old when this tragic image was captured by Frank Fournier a photojournalist on assignment in a remote region of Columbia. When he arrived in Armero on November 16, 1985 three days after the volcano Nevado del Ruiz erupted.
Local farmers informed Fournier about the young girl, Omayra, who needed help. She had been trapped beneath the muddy water, depicted in the photograph for three days. The time was dawn, she was confused and in pain....