The joy of Yuri Cortez
Luzhniki stadium, Moscow -- «I completely shared in their joy at qualification,» said AFP photographer Yuri Cortez, who was literally submerged by celebrating Croatian footballers after the goal that sent them to the World Cup final.
At 53-years-old, Cortez has extensive experience of extreme, dangerous and difficult situations.
"Obviously, that was different, I never felt in danger, although I do have a few bruises. I think that’s also why I was smiling. That’s what’s different between a conflict situation and what happened at the end of the match.
«My travel plans were to leave Russia on July 4 because after the first round we reduce the number of photographers on site and the first to go are those covering the teams that have been knocked out. But this World Cup was completely different to the others. The favourites started being eliminated from the first round. Germany were knocked out, Portugal were eliminated, Spain went home. And with them, the photographers that were following them".
"As Mexico survived the group phase, that extended my stay in Russia. My second departure date was fixed for July 12, the day after the second semi-final. I would have liked to stay to the end but it wasn’t possible".
«We have a coordinator for the World Cup who organises the schedule, to cover training, matches and everything else. And we have a coordinator for each group of photographers covering each match. In my case, for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium, it was Mladen Antonov. It was up to him to distribute the numbers for the different positions in the stadium. I found myself with the number one, which I’d already had at other matches and shows the trust Mladen has in me".
"You’re in the corner of the pitch which gives you a direct view of the coach and the substitutes’ bench. There’s action on the pitch but also from the coach with his players and the reaction of those who are on the bench when a goal is scored. That’s why we consider this position, along with the one at the opposite end of the pitch, to be the most important".
«All of a sudden there were four or five of them and I was on my seat taking photos. Then other players started arriving, including those from the bench and all of a sudden the pressure was too great and I found myself caught in this avalanche with the barrier, the seat and all of them on top of me.
« I started clicking on the button as I was falling and I kept going even though I was buried under a mountain of players. I had a close up of their faces, their euphoria, their emotion, seen from underneath.”
« When they understood what was happening, the players were very friendly with me, they asked me if I was OK, there was even one who in the middle of all this chaos picked up my glasses and put them back on me. And then there was the moment that (Domagoj) Vida took my hand, hugged me, and swept away by emotion, gave me a kiss".
«It was a great moment, I completely shared in their joy at qualifying for the final and being able to keep hoping they will take home the cup. It was a great moment. »
Yuri Cortez has had a long career with AFP, starting with the aftermath of the Salvadorian conflict. «When I was a teenager, the conflict was in full flow. I came to cover it as a photographer at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s when the peace process was underway.”
He then left in 1992 for Peru, «during a very difficult year because the Shining Path (communist guerrilla group) was at its zenith.” dans une année très difficile car le Sentier lumineux était à son apogée ». With a spate of car bombings.
«The most powerful ones I witnessed were in the embassy neighbourhood, at Miraflores. Once, we were in a restaurant and I saw what looked like a lightning bolt. I had just enough time to say to my photographer colleague : « Bomb!» and the explosion went off. Stepping out into the road made me think of Beirut.»
After that, Yuri covered the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the second Intifada, earthquakes, coups d’Etat such as the one in Haïti in 2004. «It was very violent, very violent... One time we were attacked with machetes, stones and shots fired at our vehicle.»
"The thing that’s consistent is the adrenaline that surges by a thousand times, ten thousand times, in that it’s similar. But when, at the same time, you’re risking your life, it’s a different type of adrenaline."
«At Luzhniki everything happened so quickly, in such a surprising and emotional way at the same time. What can you do, I only had time to think about clicking away and trying to capture these faces covered in joy.”
«I know that fans and a lot of people would give anything to be able to shake their hands, to have their picture taken with them.”
«I left that same evening and it took me about an hour and a half to reach the airport. And that’s when I started getting phone calls, the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing. I had to turn it off to check-in for the flight and when I turned it back on I had hundreds of missed calls. One person called 50 times ! »
«There was that explosion on social media but that’s not really my thing, I’m not a fan. My 19-year-old daughter said she was overloaded with friend requests on Facebook from people she doesn’t know but who knew that she’s my daughter. I engaged on social media at the agency’s request but, for example, I almost never use Facebook. My group of friends is small, and private. »
«I think I’m going to watch the final at home, or maybe with friends in a restaurant or bar. It will be a different atmosphere, without the pressures of work.
«I feel close to the Croats, I identify a little bit with them. In the final I’ll be supporting Croatia without a doubt ! Come on ! »