Andrea Phillips sat on her stoop trying to catch a moment of silence within the madness of knowing her husband, Capt. Richard Phillips, had been taken captive by Somali pirates at sea. Little did she know, a photographer was across the road struggling with the decision whether to break her peace and get the photograph that other news agencies were clamoring for.
Her family’s story was huge and was being played out in newspapers, television stations and online news sources around the world. And the photographer had a decision to make.
The Phillipses, their daughter, Castleton student Mariah Phillips, and Associated Press photographer Toby Talbot attended a photojournalism class at Castleton last week telling their story.
The Phillips’ hometown of Underhill, Vt. was overtaken by media as her husband was held hostage. Her front lawn turned into a stomping ground for cameramen and reporters. In a bigger city, action might have been taken to kick the media off of her property, but with a small town state of mind, Andrea welcomed them into her home.
“I did not know that this was going to turn into what it was at this point. All I knew was that pirates were on the ship. As soon as I found out that Richard was taken hostage, the media was kicked out,” Andrea told the class.
Talbot, an AP photographer since 1983, was one of the countless media representatives assigned to cover the story.
“Any news that happens in Vermont, I’m the guy that takes that picture,” he said.
So, when the Phillips story broke, Talbot was one of the first ones on the scene. Problem was, Andrea was adamant about her photo not being taken during this whole ordeal. Talbot, who decided not to snap the shot, told students that photographers need to respect people and know when to be human in a situation and not snap that photograph.
“I was pleading with everyone to not take my picture. I am a registered nurse in Burlington and know a lot of people. I just really didn’t want this to be about me or my kids. It was very overwhelming,” said Andrea.
Andrea’s normally slow paced town turned into media frenzy. Everyone waited for news about Capt. Phillips, good or bad, so they could catch the family’s reaction.
“I tried to be nice to everyone. I’m Italian so I wanted to take care of everyone. I asked people if they needed to use the bathroom, but then realized I got hounded every time I stepped outside. I just camped out inside my house. The only thing I kept saying to people was that when I have something to say I will, but I don’t,” said Andrea.
“Richard learned not to trust pirates, and I learned not to trust photojournalists,” added Andrea.
While this was going on at home, Capt. Phillips was being held captive on a ship with pirates, completely unaware that the media was following his story throughout the world.
“All I was thinking was that I am in a lot of trouble, I’m in a life boat, no one knows I’m here,” said Capt. Phillips.
“Richard had four pirates to deal with, I had the media, I am pretty sure I had it worse,” Andrea said to the class.
Capt. Phillips told the class about his horrowing time in the life boat, but he said the thing that baffled him the most was how much media was attached to this, and still is.
“I’m happy swine flu came along to take over the headlines,” he said.
Media still surrounds the Phillips family. A book will be coming out about his story and a possibly a movie too. But this small town family continues to live their normal everyday life, interrupted occasionally by some random reporter from time to time.
“I had a great life before. I wish it had never happened, I would be back at work now. I don’t see it as a plus for me being the first captain to be taken, I see it as a bad thing,” Capt. Phillips said.
“Richard has always been my hero, I just didn’t think I’d have to share him with the rest of the world,” said Andrea.