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For University of Arizona School of Journalism alumnus Saul Loeb, it's a day he and the world will never forget.
Loeb, a photojournalist for Agence France-Presse, was assigned to cover the presidential electoral vote inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when rioters loyal to President Trump broke past police into the rotunda and lawmakers' offices.
"I just saw hundreds of hundreds of protesters coming in from seemingly every direction filling up the rotunda, taking pictures and selfies with all the statutes that are there, putting MAGA ("Make America Great Again") hats on the statues, putting flags in their hands," Loeb told Phoenix-based Arizona Family in an interview for azfamily.com.
The 2004 UA journalism grad went to work and began taking now-iconic photographs of the insurrectionists, including the one of Arkansas' Richard Barnett with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk. The photos, including one of Barnett taking her mail, helped lead to the 60-year-old man's arrest on federal charges.
"I mean this is one of the most powerful people in Washington, one of the most powerful people in the country, in a highly secure area," Loeb said about Pelosi. "Normally you can't go anywhere near there, and here he is just making himself at home, feet on the desk taking it easy."
Also an Arizona Daily Wildcat alum, Loeb gave students a tour and photo tips in Washington a few years ago as part of Prof. Susan Knight's class, "Inside the Beltway: Press, Politics and Power in D.C."
Several other news outlets interviewed Loeb about the Capitol attack. Here are some links and excerpts:
• " 'It was just a free-for-all': My day photographing the Capitol attack" — Loeb's first-person piece for The Guardian. Excerpt: "During an event like this, it’s human nature to run away from it. But for better or for worse, we have to run toward it. No photographs are going to come from inside a locked office."
• "He Was Assigned to Photograph a Joint Session of Congress. The MAGA Mob Had Other Plans" — Rolling Stone magazine Q&A with Loeb. Excerpt: "I think the two photos that resonated the most with people were the ones from Speaker Pelosi’s office: the one of the woman in the red hat vaping at the desk, and then the guy with his feet up. ... And there’s another photo that sticks out to me, where there’s a guy standing on top of a statue of Gerald Ford in the Rotunda. He put a MAGA hat on top of the statue and also had the statue hold a Trump flag. The guy’s standing on there screaming — like, super happy screaming. And these are the halls of Congress. This is the Rotunda. This is a sacred space where presidents lie in state, and this is what’s going on here now."
• "Inside the US Capitol, as seen by AFP Photographer Saul Loeb" — An Agence France-Presse video interview with Loeb. Excerpt: "They (insurrectionists) were sort of in a jovial mood. ... They were somewhere they never expected to be. They were sort of almost impressed with themselves ... Look what we did; look where we are.'"
• "When democracy stumbles" — Story and photos by Agence France-Presse. Excerpt: "It is very rare to see even one protester in the Capitol itself, so to see a dozen right here, right outside the Senate door was highly unusual," Loeb said. "At that point, I thought that was going to be the story of the day.”
• "Photographing the insurrection" — Columbia Journalism Review story on Loeb and other photographers inside the Capitol. Excerpt: "You know, (Richard Barnett) wasn’t upset that I was taking his picture (inside Pelosi's office); he didn’t try to hide his face at all, or anything.”
Rolling Stone asked Loeb if he feared for his life:
"I don’t think I noticed any protesters with weapons. Looking back on it, I probably should have been a little bit more worried that that was a possibility. You’re just working, and so you don’t really think through all the scenarios that could be unfolding in front of you. So at the time, I wasn’t really worried.
"But my family was worried — my phone was blowing up with text messages. People were watching this on TV and seeing these reports that the Capitol has been totally breached."
In the early hours of Jan. 7, Loeb photographed Vice President Mike Pence confirming the electoral victory for President-elect Joe Biden.
"Sure, the windows were still broken, the floors were still slippery from the tear gas, and there were broken things all over the place – doors, windows and desks in disarray. But Congress was going back to its business," Loeb told The Guardian. "Even then, just five hours after they cleared the building, things were returning to normal. I think that’s what members of Congress wanted to show: that the work of the government will continue."