When photographer Burhan Ozbilici attended a photo exhibition on Monday evening in Ankara, Turkey, he thought that he might get a few decent images of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov, who was speaking there, which would come in handy to illustrate future stories on the two countries.
Little did he realise he’d soon be witness to an assassination – and that he’d be taking photos that would shock the world.
incredible. So awful. But what were the odds. Captured at such close range.— Boing Boing (@BoingBoing) December 19, 2016
— Richard Vernalls (@rvernallsPA) December 19, 2016
Recalling his experience to employer the Associated Press, he said: "When a man on stage pulled out a gun I was stunned and thought it was a theatrical flourish.
"It took me a few seconds to realise what had happened: A man had died in front of me; a life had disappeared before my eyes.”
"The gunshots, at least eight of them, were loud in the pristine art gallery. Pandemonium erupted. People screamed, hid behind columns and under tables and lay on the floor. I was afraid and confused, but found partial cover behind a wall and did my job: taking photographs."
He explained how he was well aware of the danger of the situation he found himself in when a man – now identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas – opened fire at Karlov and then began shouting in Arabic and gesturing with his gun.
But he decided to move forward a bit and do what he was there to do – take photos. He said: “This is what I was thinking: ‘I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos?’ … I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?’.”
He even managed to capture the terrified and tense mood of the room by taking pictures of people taking cover and running out the building.
He said: "I even thought about friends and colleagues who have died while taking photographs in conflict zones over the years.
"As my mind raced, I saw that the man was agitated — and yet, he was, strangely, in control of himself. He shouted at everyone to stand back. Security guards ordered us to vacate the hall and we left."
He said that when I returned to the office to edit my photos, he was shocked to see that the shooter was actually standing behind the ambassador as he spoke…"Like a friend, or a bodyguard".
The photos have had a profound effect on people, not least because it’s rare to be able to capture a moment as dramatic as this so close up.
I can’t stop staring at these photos…Russian Ambassador to Turkey Is Assassinated in Ankara https://t.co/bHx3DW8XMJ
— JenniferMarchSoloway (@marchsoloway) December 20, 2016
The photographer’s bravery has been widely commended, too.
AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici with a late entry for photo of the year. The courage to take this simply remarkable. https://t.co/N8PvCzh9DR— Dan Stewart (@thatdanstewart) December 19, 2016
What a horrific scene. I applaud your bravery to capture this.— Amy Kent (@AmyKentPR) December 19, 2016
what a traumatic experience - us as artists know though that our art / passions come first.— RAMSQUIAT (@ramsquiat) December 20, 2016