Story by Ryan Bramhall
Manpreet Romana was at the right place at the right time.
On July 14, 2009, Romana was embedded with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan photographing soldiers and the lives of Afghans. He’d been with the brigade for five days, and was walking alongside soldiers for four hours when he saw a convoy of trucks coming the other way. He told a fellow journalist to stop so he could get a shot of the soldiers walking while the convoy passed them.
When the soldiers walked 30 meters ahead, he heard a blast and saw smoke through his Nikon D3.
“I heard a loud explosion,” Romana said, “probably the loudest explosion I will ever hear.”
He was the first photojournalist to shoot an improvised explosive device (IED) in wartime.
To get a photo of that significance takes more than luck, he says.
“All my concentration,” he said, “is that it’s late in the evening. I have to stay still to get this picture. I just pick up my camera and I start shooting. It’s instincts that take over. I had to stay still because I didn’t know if I was shaking or the ground was shaking. Everything around me was shaking.”
After the dust settled, Romana realized soldiers he knew and had spent time with died in the blast.
When Romana released the blast photos for Agence France-Press, his employer at the time, they quickly spread worldwide and CNN soon interviewed him about the photo. Manpreet denied the interview. The war wasn’t about him, and he wanted to respect the recently deceased.
“He can react fast,” says Maral Deghati, photo editors for AFP, “He gets a story out right away. He has great interpersonal skills and is a very approachable person.”
Romana has two sides. On one side, he is a photojournalist who covers war and violence. On the other side, Romana is a thinker, a philosopher and a lover.
To take his mind off of the harshness of both his job and his life, Romana backpacks through the Himalayan Mountains. Spending time in nature is a deep meditation for Romana, a place to “cleanse himself.” Here, Romana ponders many of his own philosophies, which many of his friends call “bullshit.” Backpacking also gives Romana an appreciation for photography.
Romana wants to view the world as objectively as humanly possible, to be the best person and photographer he can be.
“Life is not just black and white,” Romana says. “Between black and white there’s a lot of shade of grey. Most things in life are grey. So it’s a very difficult thing, and you need to question it and the same time you need to have an open mind to it.”
He said he carried that attitude, along with his camera gear, during the IED explosion.
“I think once you accept death as the end,” he said, “you will be able to experience your life much better.”
Check out the photo on the Guardian.