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University of Missouri

Mourning Orlando

Photojournalism student Loren Elliott’s work captures all corners of America.

Orlando vigil

Jose Hernandez (in gray) holds hands with Victor Bayez as they grieve the loss of friends Amanda Alvear and Mercedez Flores. Photo by Loren Elliott.

Loren Elliott, a master’s degree candidate in photojournalism and a photographer for the Tampa Bay Times, made this photograph of a vigil June 13, 2016, in downtown Orlando, Florida. Jose Hernandez (in gray) holds hands with Victor Bayez as they grieve the loss of friends Amanda Alvear and Mercedez Flores, who were among the 49 killed a day earlier in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub.

Q: When you are photographing something as emotional as a vigil for victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, is it hard to keep your own emotions in check?

A: Covering tragedy is always an emotional challenge. But when I’m in work mode and have the viewfinder to my eye, there’s a distance between me and the pain I’m photographing. It allows me to stay focused and do my job. That being said, it’s crucial that a photojournalist also be human and feel the sadness in the wake of an event like the Pulse shooting. When covering tragedy, a photojournalist’s driving force should be compassion, and you have to be emotionally open in order to be compassionate. So yes, it can be tough at times to keep my emotions in check, but if that weren’t the case, I’d be concerned about my own humanity.


Q: What do you want people to come away with after seeing this picture?

A: I want people far from Pulse and Orlando to see the shooting as more than a statistic, a number of victims, a bullet point in America’s growing list of mass shootings. When tragedy isn’t close to home, isn’t personal, and so it can be easy to be apathetic. But the pain caused by this and other shootings is so much more — the loss of best friends, partners, sons, daughters, siblings. I hope that the grief in the face of Jose Hernandez makes the deaths of Amanda Alvear and Mercedez Flores personal for people who never knew them.


Q: What role does photography play in America’s gun control debate?

A: Photojournalism humanizes the stats and figures of lives lost. It brings to life the unimaginable death that can be carried out when military assault rifles end up in the wrong hands. I hope this image would give pause to someone who might otherwise discount the Pulse shooting as unavoidable.


Q: You have an undergraduate degree in environmental studies from Seattle University. What sparked your interest in photojournalism?

A: While majoring in environmental studies, I started shooting for the student newspaper as a side gig. But that was not until pretty close to graduation, and I never took a journalism class. Even so, the experience opened my eyes to photojournalism. I was a lousy photographer at the time, but knew I’d never felt as alive as when I covered the mayhem on Seattle’s streets on election night 2012. After graduating from Seattle, I applied to MU’s program.


Q: You primarily photograph sports for the Tampa Bay Times. How do you approach a sporting event differently than a vigil?

A: I love shooting sports and find it to be endlessly challenging, but it doesn’t require the emotional sensitivity of a vigil. At a football game, I know where I’m allowed to shoot from and where I’m not. If I creep over the line to get a better angle, the worst that will happen is a scolding from a member of the security team. But at something like this vigil, the boundaries are not so obvious. If I cross a boundary, the cost is violating the privacy and grieving of people going through one of the hardest moments of their lives. I try to let respect and compassion be my guides, so as to respect the boundaries but still get close enough to make powerful, humanizing images.

See more of Loren Elliott’s work.