Photographers' Blog

In the darkest corner of my soul

By Dado Ruvic

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian war.

I was only three years old when the war broke out. Although I was only a child, I keep the dark images of horror, blood and the suffering inside me, buried deep in the darkest corner of my soul. I was only a child, but the memories of war will never fade away. It is something all of us carry as a burden on our souls, each every one of us in our own way.

Regardless of my memories, I try to do my job impartially and without any influences. I want to see things rationally. I want to cover the stories that matter; the stories that carry the message. I want to say and express what some people dare not say. The photos are not merely photos, they are tears. They are screams of the desolate despair. They are pain.

In Bosnia, more than 10,000 people are still missing and have not been found. These are not only numbers. They are someone’s children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives. Ten thousand people still without a trace; in the darkness. Twenty years after the war, 10,000 is not merely a number. Year after year, I witness the excavation of the new mass graves. And the years go by, as if carried by the winds of sorrow.

The political system in Bosnia makes the process of the excavation even slower and more painful. In the city of Vlasenica, Serb forces killed more than 2,600 people during the war. Some 300 of them were children; 300 innocent souls. Eight mass funerals in all these years covered by the veil of mist and darkness, with only hundreds of bodies found. Will this process continue at this pace? Who knows if the mothers will live long enough to find and bury the remains of their children?

Although I, as a photographer, tend to always remain impartial, the thing that strikes me the most is seeing mothers hugging and kissing their sons’ half-empty coffins. These coffins are half-empty because nothing but a few bones of their killed sons have been found. A mother cannot go to eternal rest without burying her loved ones, or at least some of their bones that were found in numerous mass graves, moved several times from one place to another after the crimes were committed.

One month in Somalia

By Feisal Omar

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

April 5 – I was in my car and was not far from the theater when I heard a big explosion. I stood up and immediately saw a local journalist covered with blood and running. I asked him about the explosion and he told me it was inside the theater. I went towards it but security was tightened after the blast as the government feared other blasts would follow. By then, government soldiers were firing on anyone rushing to the scene.

After some minutes I managed to enter the theater. I saw dead bodies including those of the two biggest sports officials. I was shocked. Rescue workers stood on scattered pieces of human flesh as they collected casualties. I had to take their photos as tears rolled down my cheeks.

I tried to take photos outside the theater but after taking several images soldiers fired on me and ordered me to leave the area. The commander of the theater guards ordered journalists and
rescuers to be fired upon. We ran away at neck breaking speed and the soldiers kept on firing until we disappeared. That was a very shocking day that I will never forget.

Sarajevo, where they died with dignity

By Chris Helgren

I was trying to think of something good to write, something positive about this anniversary. But it’s just an impossible task when remembering the smell and mood of the morgues and hospitals tasked with the dirty work of the war. While I was there, I don’t think I met a single family untouched by the violence. Whether it was through loss of a relative or starvation or frostbite or all of the above, every Sarajevan had a sad story to tell. One of those who couldn’t tell me was 10 year old Elvedin Sendo, whose body was brought into the Kosevo hospital morgue with grass stains on his shoes. He was killed when Bosnian Serb shells hit his school’s playing field in the Hrasno neighbourhood, two weeks short of the war’s first anniversary.

The story of Sarajevans surviving the siege was one of community and dignity. Water lines were shattered early on, yet people needed water to survive. Sarajevo’s citizens would nervously queue to fill their containers in places known to those on the hills manning the artillery pieces. Once in a while, a mortar would land, kill a few of them, but they’d be back the next day to provide water for their families. A huge screen made of blue cloth, spanning the width of a street, was erected one year to protect pedestrians from sniper fire. Sadly, it wilted under the weight of a rainstorm within a couple of days.

Within a year most families had burned whatever firewood they had around the house, and they’d then venture out to cut down trees closer and closer to the front lines. After these were gone, they burned furniture, then shoes. At a friend’s house party during the third winter, we went through his record collection and burned LP’s by Martika and Michael Jackson. “He’s pretty hot”, was the joke at the time.

A dazed memory

By Damir Sagolj

It is twenty years since the man was killed. His remains were given different names; he became just a number in sad statistics – one of ours or theirs. Behind the broken window of his burnt home, between grave marks of innocents only ghosts live.

I don’t have any of my pictures from the 1992-95 war in Bosnia anymore. I shot many photos – mostly of dead people and destruction. Very few had any life in them. Then, just as the killings stopped and a different war continued in November 1995 I abandoned my photos; I didn’t want to have them anymore.

Not a smart move, but it was what I wanted at the moment – to forget, to put it behind, to move forward.

My journey into Syria’s nightmare

By Zohra Bensemra

The contact from Syria called: “Be ready in 30 minutes,” he said. “If you want to go, we have to go now.”

From the moment we left our Turkish hotel near the border, my colleague and I traveled on dirt roads used by smugglers and farmers around Syria’s northern frontier. The highways were busy with soldiers and shabbiha, irregular pro-Assad fighters.

Unlike in Libya, where clear frontlines divided rebels from Muammar Gaddafi’s army, in Syria, frontlines cut through villages and criss-cross farmlands in a treacherous maze. One village might be pro-Assad, the president’s picture hanging in every window, the next a solidly rebel-held town, another a mixture of communities where you could not trust your neighbor.

The problem with prizes

By Radu Sigheti

As I prepared pictures to submit to a contest I could not stop thinking that all these past years the main photo contests chose their winners from among the pictures depicting wars and conflicts. I think that this year will be the same, due to the many bloody events around the world.

I do not know why those pictures are still chosen, they show horrors. They show the pain of the helpless victims and the joy of the gun-toting bullies. They show, some in a dignified way, some in a gruesome way, humanity at its worst, people killed by other people. They will haunt your memory; they will be published again and again. The photographers took great risks to shoot those images; we praise them for their pictures and courage to be where others do not dare to go. There were amazing photos depicting war and those photographers deserve to be praised for their work. But do their images really belong to a pictures contest? Does anyone think about their impact in the future, about their impact on young photographers? Was Susan Sontag right in her last book, “Regarding the pain of others”?

Throughout those years, many young photographers looked at those pictures and what have they learned? They have learned that to be a great photographer and to make a great picture you must go to a conflict or a war zone, because you get instant recognition. But that’s built on others’ ordeals. Generations of photographers thought this way, even today, in an easily accessible conflict zone, the place is swarming with photographers, sometimes they outnumber the combatants.

The essence of war

By Umit Bektas

As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.

No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.

It is now more than a month since I returned from my assignment as an embedded photographer with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now, as I write this blog I am looking at that picture. I want to talk about what a pair of blood-soaked boots means to me; as a human being and as a photographer.

Iraq’s youngest photographer reflects

Qamar Hashim is an 8-year-old Iraqi photographer. He tours famous streets to picture Baghdadis with his single camera and is the youngest Iraqi photographer to win several local awards, according to the Iraqi Society Photographic (ISP).

Below, Qamar responds to a series of questions.

When did you take your first photograph and what did it show?

I do not remember exactly the first picture but I had been mimicking my father since I was 4 or 5 years-old and started to take pictures of the Tigris river, the gulls, birds, old houses and heritage places.

Why do you think photography is important?

Photography is very important. It documents life and pauses time. We can show the city, life and the people.

Are you ready for your embed?

By Umit Bektas

When I was informed of the date from which I was to be embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan, I luckily had enough time to prepare. I felt I had to plan everything before I left so I drew up a “to do” list. A major item on the list was the packing of my bags.

I knew I should carefully plan what I was to take. I knew I should travel light but at the same time have everything I would need on hand. Given the nature of the assignment and the conditions in Afghanistan, it would probably be impossible to secure anything I may have left behind. Fearing that my own list may be lacking some essentials, I contacted Kabul-based Ahmad Masood and other Reuters photographers who had been embedded before me. Masood, most likely the recipient of many such queries before, promptly sent back a comprehensive document he had prepared with a list of what I needed to take with me as well as other useful information. Along with other details from colleagues, I then knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

The first priority was the security equipment – body armor and helmet. Without them in your number one bag, you can not be embedded. So I put these two items in a separate bag.

Iraq’s slide to nowhere

Iraqi photographer Thaier al-Sudani answers questions on the nine year war and the pull out of U.S. troops.

Do you remember the day the U.S. launched air strikes?

I remember that day well. As the U.S. military jets bombed Baghdad, I was on the roof watching. We all thought that Iraq would be away from the war and violence after ousting Saddam and that Iraq would be among the top countries in the Middle East, due to its natural resources.

Describe your life under Saddam’s regime?

Life was normal. I studied design at the Arts Academy in Baghdad. Life was much safer than it is now.