My partner and I have just been escorted by the police from our beach house in Cumbuka to a safe hotel in Fortaleza. My body is still trembling with fear as I sit here writing this.
At 1 am, I was awoken by the explosive sound of shattering glass coming from downstairs. Seconds later, I heard loud screams coming from my friend, who was sleeping down there. I then heard a door slam in panic and people stepping on the broken glass. I jumped out of bed in shock and rushed to my bedroom door to see what had happened, but I couldn't open it. I kicked it hard twice, but it still wouldn't open. I was totally locked in.
Downstairs I could hear my friend saying "calm, calm" in Portuguese and I could tell from the tone in his voice that some very serious shit was happening. Going on instinct and adrenaline alone, I jumped out of the window onto the patio roof. The old terracotta tiles started breaking under my feet, so I moved as lightly and silently as I could to the corner of the house. From there I managed to slip around the edge so that I could not be seen from my window. 4 - 5 meters above the ground, I freeze. The sound of my breathing, the sounds from inside was all being absorbed by the rolling ocean only 50 meters away. I can hear nothing from inside the house. Occasionally I look around the corner to see what is going on and suddenly I see a hand about to pull the curtains away from my bedroom window. I quickly pull back. Somebody is definitely looking for me, but luckily he doesn't see me.
After what felt like ages, I managed to slide down from the roof. With my body on 100% alert, I slowly approach the house. I expect the worst, but all I see is a stool on the floor inside the shattered glass door of the living room. The house is empty and in shambles after the intruders turned everything in it upside down. And now I am sitting here with my friend, the full story in my mind. In short, I can say that we are incredibly lucky to be alive.
Here's what he told me. 2 - 3 masked men, armed with guns, scissors and iron chains, hurled a stool through the glass door and entered the house. My friend was already awake because he thought he had heard strange noises outside around the house. What he had heard were the men barricading all exit doors from the outside in order to trap us. These guys were total pros.They knew the house inside and outside like it was their own. As my friend was headed back to his bed, not having seen anything strange, he heard the glass explosion and the men came through the door.
They were holding guns and their heads and faces were wrapped in turbans. My friend managed to scream and slam a door to warn me, but they quickly handcuffed him, threw him naked to the floor, put a gun to his head and started kicking and hitting him, telling him they would kill him if he did not turn over all his valuables.One of the guys ran immediately after entering up to my bedroom door and managed to lock it before I reacted to get out to see what happened. They searched his room and mugged him for all his cash and valuable belongings. Then they specifically asked for my camera gear and he just played stupid and said he didn't know where it was.
Having already put a huge screwdriver in my bedroom door to isolate me in my room, one of them went upstairs to get me armed with a large pair of scissors. Luckily, I was hiding on the roof and he did not find me. He ran downstairs and asked where I was, but my partner could do nothing but shake his head. They must have feared that I ran to the local police, because slowly they started backing out. And luckily as well, all my computer, video, and camera gear were packed in two special suitcases right there in the corner of the living room where all the action was happening! But due to the high pressure situation, they never saw it. So they fled the scene.
Without knowing where I was, my friend managed to get out of the house and alert the police. I met them all in the doorway when he and the cops returned. It was a great moment to see that everybody was in good health. Though this episode had a happy ending, and we lost only replaceable things, there are many if's that I will not get into right now.
All I will say is that for 23 months I have had a lucky angel flying over me. Her name is Luba. The margin between life and death is small in situations like these. Though it was just like you see on TV, acting it out in real life was not an experience I would wish on anyone. I want to thank my friend Peter Fischer for handling this extremely traumatic experience so well. His hands were cuffed so hard that the steel made deep marks in his flesh. You can see it all in today's photos. This incident will definitely affect how I work. Till now I have naively traveled any corner of the world to find my models, not afraid to carry highly expensive gear with me and walking into any situation to get what I want. Unfortunately I will now have to rethink my philosophy. I must pay attention to the signal I received this evening.
I will probably never put my foot down in Brazil again, nor the rest of South America or Africa for that matter. At least not as a high profile photographer with lenses sticking out of every pocket and a silver Mac Powerbook and cameras hanging from my shoulder. I try to work discretely, but obviously this time someone found my goods too tempting. This trip is over! No more shooting, no more models in Brazil. I will spend my last weekend here trying to turn this trauma into something positive and worthwhile. I am confident that you will enjoy the photos I have taken so far, and am only glad that I will soon return to Portugal having shot several models, but not having gotten shot myself! From henceforth, I shall mark this day as my new birthday.
Till next time, my dear viewers. Stay safe!