Category Archive: war

Notes from the Field: Camille Lepage in South Sudan

I met Camille Lepage in South Sudan last September when I arrived in the capital Juba on a two-week assignment. She had already been living there for almost two months, and has been there ever since. She was a huge help in getting our story off of the ground and filling my colleague and I in on how South Sudan works, with all the necessary tips and tricks that help make things happen there. And there are a lot of tips and tricks needed.

At the time she had just finished a stint at a local newspaper, The Citizen, and was starting work as a stringer for AFP. Since I met her, she has traveled all over South Sudan and the border region and begun to produce impressive stories on her own. I wanted to feature her project “The Silent War” from South Kordofan, which was was photographed in October and November last year and published this week in Le Monde. We also wanted to ask her a few questions about what life is like as a freelance photographer in South Sudan.

Dvafoto: When did you arrive in South Sudan?

I arrived in South Sudan in July 2012, just after finishing my degree in journalism at Southampton Solent University in the UK.

What was the main story you wanted to cover when you set out?
The wars at the borders with Sudan really pushed me to come to South Sudan. They are going on in complete silence and I have always wanted to cover underreported (if reported at all) wars or humanitarian crises, so I figured going to South Sudan, which was a new nation under construction, would probably be a good way to start. On top of that, I thought it was very unfair that a one year old country was constantly referred to as doomed or failed so I wanted to see it for myself and perhaps bring some new light on it.

How has the story you’re pursuing changed?
I think I really have two main focuses. 
The first is the humanitarian crisis in both Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where locals are being bombed by the Sudanese government, where NGOs and journalists are forbidden. Since June 2011, it has led hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced to other countries. I didn’t think I would spend so much time and energy on this, but after having spent 3 weeks in South Kordofan last November, I know I have to go back as often as I can. I also want to make my way to Blue Nile, which is trickier and much more costly too. Also, I can only go to those places during the dry season, when roads are practicable, so from November to May. I also need to finance those trips by working for NGOs at the same time, it’s a little challenging.
The second story is on the quest for identity of South Sudan and how a country that has been at war for decades can become a united nation. I’m looking the obstacles such as lack of infrastructure, which results in the lack of health care and sparks tribalism around the country but also the way forward, like a youth which wants peace and education.

How are your pictures getting out? Where are they being published?
I started freelancing with AFP when I arrived so through them they are often published in The Guardian, Time Magazine’s Lightbbox, BBC, sometimes on the NYT Lens Blog etc. 
For my personal projects, I’m pitching them to pictures editors here and there, the South Kordofan story was published in Le Monde, but I’m hoping to have it published in other places soon. The other one isn’t ready at all, so I’ll wait until I feel I have some good material to pitch that too.

In general, what is life like for a photographer like you in South Sudan?
Life isn’t easy, really. Everything is very expensive here, I used to rent a tent at a hotel for 600$ a month. Now I live in a local house far from the town and without electricity, but it’s only 200$ a month. I obviously don’t have AC or a fan, so the temperature can go up to 38 degrees at night. I got used to it though, and now whenever I go to the field, which should normally be more rough, I have more comfort. I always think it’s quite amusing.
At the moment, we are only two photographers in the country so we can quite easily get assignments with NGOs and UN agencies, but I only do so to pay my bills and finance other reportages.
At first, people here are seriously reluctant to be photographed. They get very very aggressive, I even had my life threatened a few times when I wanted to photograph people. I’ve learnt how to approach them, so it’s becoming easier and easier every time. But it takes time!

Are there many other photographers there? Are they staying as long as you?
We were four only a few months ago, now we’re two only. I think just like most foreign correspondants, stringer photographers stay between one and two years. There are also some people who come over for a one week or two on assignment.

What is the benefit to staying longer?
You get a much better understanding of the place. Especially in a country like South Sudan where everything is logistically complicated, you need to know the rules, to understand the ‘un-said’, discover how to approach people, to make them trust you too. After six decades of war, the South Sudanese are very suspicious of spies, and they remain in this ‘war spirit’ when you know at any time things can go wrong if you say something they didn’t want to hear. On top of that, it’s really a fascinating place, they are so many stories to tell, and it takes time to get proper insights of it.

What is one story that you wish you could be covering in South Sudan that you so far have not been able to, due to access or due to resources?
Apart from the Blue Nile story that I previously mentioned, I’ve been meaning to go and spend some time with the Murle tribe in their cattle camp in Jonglei state. Cattle camps are huge areas where armed kids are keeping hundreds of cows (cows show the wealth of a family and often are used for securing a bride). Traditionally the Murle go and raid other camps to steal their cattle either as an initiation into adulthood or to simply increase ther ‘wealth’. They often end up in very violent fights between the tribes unfortunately. The Murle are also said to be sterile, so at the same time they steal children from other tribes; but there is very little documentation on the Murle, so I’d like to see it with my own eyes. 
I haven’t managed to cover it yet as the UN are forbidding journalists to go to Jonglei state because of security issues, and no NGOs are able to facilitate journalists to go there because the area is too sensitive.

What is your background in photography, where is your home?

I don’t really have any photography background. I studied print journalism, but was more than often interested in the visual part in each story. It clicked about one year ago, what I was really into was photojournalism and I decided to go for it. When I arrived in South Sudan, I introduced myself as a photojournalist, despite my very meagre portfolio at the time. I think people didn’t take me very seriously at first, but I worked hard and still do, so I think they see me a little differently now. 
and I’m from France!

Worth a look: Kalpesh Lathigra’s Anglo-Afghan War

I first ran across Kalpesh Lathigra‘s series Anglo-Afghan War on tumblr, and was struck by the images. The work looks nothing like other coverage of the conflict I’ve seen. In the images, there aren’t explosions. There aren’t soldiers shooting. There aren’t locals kneeling or being interrogated. It’s a different view of the country and foreign militaries, and that got me intrigued. I asked Lathigra a little about the project, how it came about, and what the viewer learns from this approach to such a well-photographed subject.

dvafoto: How did the work come about?

Lathigra: The work was commissioned by The Guardian Weekend Magazine by Kate Edwards, the Director of Photography at the mag. She had seen my work Lost in the Wilderness and we talked about approaching the story in a similar way. The essay was about the life of British Soldiers and War in Afghanistan. The story required me to be embedded with the Parachute Regiment for 3 weeks and this was in 2007 in Helmand.

dvafoto: Could you describe your approach to photographing the story? The ongoing war in Afghanistan has been photographed and photographed for a decade. What did you have in mind going in and how did that work into your coverage for the story? What are you trying to show?

Lathigra: I think there are an amazing number of photographers who have shown the experience of soldiers and civilians caught under fire, explosions and sheer impact of conflict …. I did go on patrols and by sheer luck we didn’t get shot at or have explosions. I think if I had been exposed to that I would have made pictures of this in my way. I am not interested in what I term bang bang images…..I want the viewer to really look at my work and see the nuances and metaphors. Look at the photograph of the destroyed Hesco Barrier, the photograph of an Afghan National Police post was made on patrol there was very little interaction between the soldiers and the police at this time and I wanted to capture the fleeting moment of passing, the likelihood that a soldier and this police officer will meet again after the war is over is unlikely yet they shared the same moment and that very much plays into the some of the landscapes with Afghan villagers, them in the distance the soldiers on patrol….just passing…fleeting moments……..A group of three soldiers just in a tent the ordinariness of the situation.

What I have to say is that this is my experience and not what other photographers have had. From the outset of the essay the idea for me was a quiet reflective series of photographs, I was using a medium format, it physically makes me slow down and think and for me that is important to really think what am I trying to say with this photograph……I wish I could have stayed longer as the work is incomplete and my hope is to go back before the drawdown. My friend the late Tim Hetherington and myself had spoken about our approaches to the war and how we felt it was important to have authorship over your work and to walk away from the cliches of the photographing these young men and war in general. I think it is important to remember that when I photographed this series, Afghanistan was the forgotten war, Iraq at the forefront. I guess the word I am looking for is there was an emotional distance and I think for me that is reflected in the photographs. Now time has moved forward and when I go back I think this show in the new photographs.

dvafoto: How does the work fit in with the rest of your work? Had you done any conflict work before? On your site I see work about military training, for instance; are you working on a larger body of work on the subject?

Lathigra: I was a news photographer for many years and covered a variety of stories around the world but never conflict and maybe that is why these pictures are different.

In regards to how does this fit into the rest of my work……I am currently working on the ideas of truth and fiction in regards to images of conflict. So I spent a month on the set of Coriolanus, the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes. The film was made on location in Serbia and some of the locations used were scenes of conflict during the Balkans War. The research material reflected photography from that time. I decided to shoot both a diary and large format on the set, the diary is very much reportage, the large format is to have a tableaux of the scenes. I have since had a few assignments in regards to military training and intend to photograph more of these.

Thanks to Kalpesh Lathigra for sharing his work. Check out more on his site.

Citing risks of working there, Sunday Times tells freelancer paper won’t buy pictures from Syria

After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. -Sunday Times tells freelances [sic] not to submit photographs from Syria

The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, has told a freelance photographer not to submit photos from Syria because the risk of working there is too great. After sending pictures from Aleppo, Syria, to the paper for consideration, conflict photographer Rick Findler was told that the paper has a policy not to look at non-commissioned reporting from the country. It’s an interesting development for the photojournalism industry, especially since closures of foreign bureaus have increased news publications’ reliance on freelancers for international reporting. Conflict reporting is a dangerous and expensive operation, and when things go bad freelancers lack the institutional support afforded to staff reporters.

Speaking to the Press Gazette, The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson cited just these concerns in explaining the paper’s policy against hiring freelancers to cover Syria or license their work from the region even after the reporter has gotten out of the country. Speaking on the matter, Paterson said, “…we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely. This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future. The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”

1.8 Gigapixel Cameras Fly on US Drones

Gizmodo has written about the “World’s Highest Resolution Camera”, with 1.8 gigapixels, which is being developed for the US government. They shared this clip from the PBS show NOVA which recently broadcast an episode called “Rise of the Drones”.

This is the next generation of surveillance. … It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist. – BAE Systems Engineer Yiannis Antioniades, who designed the sensor

I know some folks working on drone-related journalism and drone-related photography. This should give you some more ideas about what might be possible. And I can’t help but think of what extreme ‘Google Street View’ style projects could be possible from a camera also known as “Wide-Area Persistant Stare’. Maybe some day we’ll see such a thing, for now it remains a classified US Government program.

Scott also recommends having a look at the Dronestagram project, which compiles Google Maps aerial landscapes of the sites of drone strikes. You can follow them on Instagram or on Tumblr.

Tim Hetherington’s story: on screen and in print

There are two new Tim Hetherington biographies coming out soon.

Longtime friend and collaborator Sebastian Junger created a film documentary called Which Way Is the Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington. The film premiered last week at Sundance to favorable reviews. HBO will air the film on April 18 of this year.

“Huffman recounts Hetherington’s career in chapters that expand on the many conflicts the photographer covered: the Liberian civil war; the genocide in Sudan and its spillover into Chad; the American occupation of Afghanistan. His point, though not stated explicitly, seems to be that you can’t understand Hetherington without understanding the violence he was drawn to document. Huffman succeeds in immersing us in Hetherington’s daily reality while in conflict zones, and many excellent interviews with friends and colleagues add a personal dimension to the photographer’s extraordinary life.” -Unfinished business: A new biography of photojournalist Tim Hetherington reflects on a too-short career, Columbia Journalism Review – Jan 2, 2013

Alan Huffman’s print biography of Hetherington, Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer, will be published this March. The book recounts Hetherington’s life through the conflicts he photographed. The Columbia Journalism Review has a review of the book worth reading. The book is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Nicole Tung in Syria

Our friend Nicole Tung has been producing some incredibly strong and moving work from Syria in the last couple of months. It is very dangerous reporting and she is making important photographs and finding ways to get them out to the world, which we greatly admire. The picture below, which was featured in a TIME LightBox post, is the strongest image either Scott or I have seen all year. Tung recently spoke with Photojournalism Links about her time in Syria and her plans for returning. It is a must read. To Nicole and our other colleagues who are working there: stay safe and keep up the important work.

Men carry the body of Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al Qasr in Aleppo, Syria, on Monday, August 6, 2012 which claimed at least eight lives including five children from the same family. © Nicole Tung.

See more of Tung’s work at:
Photojournalism Links: “Interview: Nicole Tung on covering the battle for Aleppo”.
Time Lightbox: “A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror”.
Time Lightbox: “Suffering and Resilience: The Hospitals of Aleppo”

Worth a look: Razistan

Razistan screenshot - photo by Jonte Wentzel

Razistan screenshot - photo by Jonte Wentzel

“There is much more to the war than the mainstream media has shown. The purpose of Razistan — or “land of secrets” — is to reveal these untold stories.” -about Razistan

Razistan is a newish Tumblr site devoted to telling original stories from Afghanistan. Founded by a host of acclaimed photographers, writers, and editors (Pieter Ten Hoopen, Sandra Calligaro, Javier Manzano, Fardin Waezi, among others) the group aims to keep attention focused on Afghanistan now the the US’s, the world’s, and the media’s eyes have moved on. There’s a kickstarter funding campaign (72% funded as of this writing). It’s always an ambitious project to fight against the prevailing media of the moment, but Razistan is well under way. There’s a great deal of compelling imagery on their Tumblr site already, and the success of their kickstarter campaign will allow them to do more exhibitions, publications, workshops for local journalists, and more.

By the way, I found this via Tumblr Storyboard, which is Tumblr’s in-house editorial effort to showcase what’s happening on Tumblr. Storyboard has a short interview with Razistan co-founder and publisher Marcos Barbery about the impetus behind the project.

Worth a look: War Torn – An Iraq Veteran’s Story

Wall Street Journal photo editor Matthew Craig and photographer Brandon Thibodeaux recently produced a powerful multimedia piece focusing on Iraq veteran Ian Welch’s life in the US after an artillery round exploded near him during the 2003 fight for Baghdad. The piece was produced over the last year and combines still photography, video, and audio interviews, offering an intimate look at the way Welch and those who surround him cope with life after his traumatic time in Iraq. Be sure to watch the editing and sound design around the 6 minute mark when Welch’s girlfriend discusses the difficulties of dealing with his PTSD. The piece, especially the final minute as Welch describes his fears for the future, is a strong reminder of the long-lasting toll of the past decade of war. You can read the accompanying article here: For Wounded Vet, Love Pierces the Fog of War

Must read: “The heart is the real light-sensitive medium” – Wim Wenders’ moving tribute to James Nachtwey


“The heart is the real light-sensitive medium here,
not the film nor the digital sensor,
it is the heart that sees an image and wants to capture it.
The eye lets the light in,
which is why we also call it a ‘lens’,
but it doesn’t ‘depict the image’,
it doesn’t ‘depict’ anything.” -Wim Wenders, A Tribute to James Nachtwey


James Nachtwey was recently awarded the 3rd annual Dresden International Peace Prize (previously awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Barenboim). At the ceremony for the award, director Wim Wenders delivered a moving tribute to Nachtwey and his work. The speech is well worth a read.

Watch tonight – Benjamin Lowy on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (updated)

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Benjamin Lowy guest appearance on 5 December 2011

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Benjamin Lowy guest appearance on 5 December 2011

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the interview.

Two of my favorite things (talented photojournalists and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) converge tonight when Benjamin Lowy appears as a guest on the show to talk about his latest book Iraq | Perspectives. The show will air on Comedy Central in the US on Dec. 5, 2011, and will likely be available online shortly thereafter. I’ve been a frequent watcher of the Daily Show since before Jon Stewart’s reign as host, and I can’t remember ever seeing another photographer as guest on the show. Lowy may be the first photojournalist to be featured in the show’s history.

The dearth of photographer guests on the Daily Show has always seemed strange to me, especially considering the number of war correspondents and documentary writers featured. Photographers have unparalleled on-the-ground experience of the wars and disasters chronicled, parodied and lambasted on the Daily Show. Other shows and outlets involve photographers a bit more; Ben Lowy recently, Ron Haviv, David Walter Banks, and others have been on CNN, and NPR’s Fresh Air has featured a number of photographers, including: Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, Roy DeCarava, James Balog, Joel Meyerowitz, Christopher Morris, and Horst Faas and Tim Page. But for some reason, the Daily Show rarely features photographers. Hopefully, Lowy’s appearance will be the start of a trend!

Check out Ben Lowy’s website while you’re at it and get a copy of his most recent book, Iraq | Perspectives.