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Field Notes
Photograph by Rebecca Hale
Peter Essick

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

I really enjoyed working with the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) in Kathmandu, Nepal. It's a nongovernmental organization started by an earthquake scientist and designed to educate local people about earthquake safety. Considering the number of people in the area, the potential for a large earthquake, and the type of building construction in the region, Kathmandu is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The NSET estimates that 40,000 people would be killed if a major earthquake struck, and 100,000 would be injured. So, with limited finances, this group helps retrofit local schools and buildings to make them safer. They also organize drills at hospitals to perfect triage techniques, using volunteers as earthquake victims. If an earthquake strikes this area, the NSET's work will probably save lives. It was inspiring to see their enthusiasm.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

I had to photograph a South African gold mine that is one of the deepest mines in the world. To get to the bottom, I waited my turn in long lines with several hundred—maybe thousands—of miners for a series of three elevators to take us down 12,000 feet (3,700 meters). It was hot and humid, and water leaked out and dripped all over us on the way down. Then we had to walk about a mile once we got there. I was dressed in mining gear—overalls, boots, gloves, hard hat, and headlamp—and had to carry my lighting and camera equipment too. I ended up with a bunch of blisters on my feet from carrying all this stuff, wearing the required rubber boots, and getting wet. It took about four hours just to get to the spot where I was going to take pictures. After that, I only had about an hour and a half to work.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

Three people at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, created a visualization of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on a panoramic screen. To illustrate this, I wanted the project's director to get down on his knees, almost like he was praying to the big screen. Problem was, he had three knee surgeries and couldn't stand to be in that position for long. He ended up having to lie down on the floor and stretch out his knees several times before I got the shot.