Photojournalist confronts ethical dilemma

When to take a photograph? The ethics and privacy of photographing a person in grief or tragedy — and when to step in to help or to comfort a person — has been the subject of discussion for years in my profession of photojournalism.

As a photojournalist at the Miami Herald for the past 30 years, these issues always have been forefront in my mind. From disasters, turmoil and confrontation to tragedy, defeat and death, the emotions seen on the faces of my subjects can be extreme. When to press the button and when not to press the button isn’t always clear.

Last week, a traumatic life and death event unfolded before my eyes. In front of me, stopped in traffic on Miami’s State Road 836, also known as the Dolphin Expressway, a woman stepped out of an SUV. She was screaming as she carried a 5-month-old baby who was not breathing and turning blue.

Instantly, I jumped out of my car to offer the woman help as traffic passed us by. Inexperienced to properly perform CPR, I did the best thing that came to mind: I flagged down other motorists. Help arrived and, through the life-saving techniques of CPR, the baby started breathing.

With four police officers and a good Samaritan on the scene, I stepped back and paused. My heart did not want to inflict more stress on this traumatized woman. I did not want her seeing me taking pictures, but I know that history demonstrates that compelling images can produce unforeseen and often beneficial results.

A still photograph can change the course of history, affect policy, raise awareness and cause leaders to act. And, in this case, maybe it can inspire others to become trained in CPR techniques — and to swiftly offer their assistance to those in dire need.

So, I grabbed my camera from my car and began recording what I saw. Little Sebastian de la Cruz stopped breathing for a second time, and his aunt Pamela Rauseo again performed CPR. I captured the Breath of Life in a still photograph.

The image has been seen around the world. In response, broadcasters and others discussed the need for people to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) — and how it can save a life.

My photograph has raised that awareness.

Years of experience prepared me for that day: Respond as a human being first, a photojournalist second.

An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of State Road 836. It is the Dolphin Expressway.

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