Sometimes a feel-good story does more than merely make you feel good. Take, for example, the celebrations in Chile at the rescue of the miners who had been trapped underground for two months. There is much to like in this story: dedicated, skilled rescuers, a government that capably managed help brought in from around the world, families and friends who maintained long vigils of support for those trapped below, and a perfect ending. Just consider how much could have gone wrong, and you can begin the understand the elation of those who had been waiting for their loved ones’ safe return.
Of the many photographs from the rescue, I thought this one captured the powerful emotional current running through the story. The caption read, “Relatives of miner Dario Segovia react as watching Segovia on a TV screen during his rescue operation at the camp outside the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010.” I’ll bet I know which one is the mother, but that doesn’t really matter. They all are experiencing the incredible release that comes from seeing their beloved returned to life among them. Biological functioning had never ceased, but life had been suspended–the life that comes from living together, having shared histories, habits, meals, journeys, arguments, laughs, successes, and failures–everything that makes up the richness of a common world bound by affection.
I like the photo because it captures not only the love that usually lies beneath the surface of ordinary life, but also the messiness that is always there. The photo itself is messy, with no sure center but for that odd black hat with the TV logo, and the scene itself is more so: people jumbled together amidst ID cards, jewelry, flags, cameras, both laughing and crying, being in the moment and photographing it–everything is happening at once.
The scene also can remind us what photography is about. The people in the picture are caught between visual technologies: being photographed while watching TV that is being photographed. Despite all the media apparatus, however, their emotions and their lives are media’s reason for being. They deserve the help that was provided by the government, which came in part because they always had the leverage of the public media, and their being presented to us both continues and extends those webs of support. We, in turn, in resonating to their joy, have the opportunity to live in a richer world, one we share with them and in which people can care, not only for loved ones but for strangers.
And speaking of a better world, the love evident in this photograph gives special emphasis to another dimension of the rescue. It’s kind of a funny story, you might say. As the New York Times reported, “Defying grim predictions about how they would fare after two months trapped underground, many of the Chilean miners came bounding out of their rescue capsule on Wednesday as pictures of energy and health.” And how did that happen? “The miners’ apparent robustness was testimony to the rescue diet threaded down to them through the tiny borehole that reached them on Aug. 22, but also to the way they organized themselves to keep their environment clean, find water and get exercise. Another factor was the excellent medical care they received from Chilean doctors.”
In short, they had good food, a clean environment, a well-organized routine of work and other activity, and excellent medical care. With that, you can live in a hole deep in the earth and come out looking fine. And now look around you, right here on the surface. How many people have those “advantages”? For all the technical wizardry employed to lift the men to the surface, the key to their survival while entombed was to live exactly as one ought to live anywhere. And so the story provides much more than a warm glow: it’s a story not of heroism, but of good sense, and it’s not a miracle, but what happens much of the time when people are organized so that they can have the basics needed for a good life.
I feel good for the miners, but I grieve for all those who still need to be rescued.
Photograph by Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press.