dima gavrysh – uganda’s forgotten war

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Dima Gavrysh

Uganda’s Forgotten War

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For over two decades a sectarian rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its infamous leader, Joseph Kony, have been waging a war against the Ugandan people and government, burning villages, mutilating civilians, and abducting children. Based in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the LRA has continued to terrorize northern Uganda since the late 1980’s, forcing millions of people to abandon their homes for dire conditions of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

The ongoing warfare became one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts and one of the most underreported crises in the world. The LRA has been known for particularly brutal mutilation of the civilians, and an uncounted number of people who survived an encounter with the LRA guerrillas had their limbs, ears, and noses cut off. Terrified by the prospect of being killed, abducted, or tortured, most villagers in northern Uganda prefer the squalid conditions of the IDP camps, and by the present time an entire generation has been born and raised in IDP camps and has never seen their own village. People in the affected area have been helped by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who provide health care, rehabilitate and run hospitals, battle epidemics, carry out vaccination campaigns, and offer mental healthcare, easing the existence for the refugees.

Children have suffered disproportionately in this conflict, and they are one of the most striking symbols of the violence in the region. Over 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA during the conflict, for use as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. An unknown number has been killed. As a result, every night tens of thousands of children stream into towns and centers of larger IDP camps to seek shelter for the night. Various humanitarian organizations set up shelters, such as the Noah’s Ark shelter in the town of Gulu, that provide a safe place for the so called “night commuters” to spend the night. As the darkness falls, slender shapes wrapped in blankets fill the floor of plastic tents that serve as communal bedrooms. Before the sun rises in the morning, children gather their belongings and return home, surviving another night.

A fragile truce was established between the Ugandan government and the LRA in 2006, and the 1.6 million people from approximately 200 camps began drifting toward home. The reports of various human rights violations, including killings, mutilations, abductions, and sexual violence are still not uncommon; however, as peace talks progressed in 2007 and LRA fighters left northern Uganda, people continued to return to their villages or smaller camps.

 

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Dima Gavrysh

 

230 Responses to “dima gavrysh – uganda’s forgotten war”


  • “I’ve seen no real evidence these problems can be solved. But I’ve seen plenty of evidence that photography can’t solve them. We’ve seen the problem. We know the problem.”

    Well then maybe we should just all shoot weddings and little league!

    Maybe photography can’t solve the problem(s). Still we should NEVER give up trying. NEVER.

    Nice link Stoop.

  • “But to view a photo and to be aware of what is happening
    is just as powerful
    and helpful”

    No, it’s not. It’s not helpful at all. Observations and emotions that don’t lead to some kind of action are worthless.

  • I think this thread is now devaluing the great photo essay above.

  • Jim Powers:

    As i wrote earlier, I don’t believe a single photograph or reportage can change things, but I do believe that it can help raising more and more awareness about the issues. True, we’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of pictures shot in Africa, and we haven’t seen any real lasting progress so far, but is it too utopistic to believe that hopefully with time something is going to change? Or should we just say “there is a problem, we haven’t solved it yet, so let’s just not think about it anymore”?
    Look at what’s happening with the Climate Crisis: more and more people are becoming more aware of it, and some of them, perhaps still a tiny little percentage, is actually trying to do something about it. It’s not pictures of melting glaciers and of droughts that are going to solve the problem, but it’s pretty safe to say that they can be a valid contribution by showing people what’s actually happening. I don’t expect revolutions, I don’t expect people to look at a reportage about Africa and march in the streets, but I think that it’s better to have this kind of pictures rather than not having them. In a world flooded with too much useless information and with too many meaningless pictures, important issues like this one risk disappearing from the map. You may say that there have been too many reportages like this, I’d say that they’re never enough. There are people out there who ignore the problem, and even more that simply don’t even know anything about it.
    You asked me what kind of actions I took in response of Dima’s essay: none yet. I’ve been actively trying to contribute with donations to specific NGOs for years, while trying to dig deeper into these issues and get a better understanding. I’ve tried to go to Uganda on a photographic project last year, thanks to some connections at UN, but it didn’t work out because of lack of funding, but I’m still trying to find a way to make it happen anyway. I don’t even know if I’m ready for something like that. Finally, perhaps it’s useless, or maybe it won’t change a thing, but I believe that talking about it is very important, and you can’t even imagine how many verbal fights i’ve been into beacause of just talking about it. Have I changed people’s minds? I don’t know. All I know is that some of them got interested and wanted to find out more.

    Bob Black:

    thanks for the editorial comment, I completely agree with it.
    Ironically, i went through something very similar to what you wrote about Congo: I knew little about it before seeing Bleasdale’s pictures. I would love to thank him, but since i don’t know how to do it, please hand my very Italian “grazie” over to him. :-)

  • Jim- I respect that you’re suggesting as a whole we need to do more than just observe. As a consumer it is hard to absorb the countless images of people suffering and “do something” about it. But photographing people suffering isn’t just observing. Even if the photos remain unpublished, going beyond our comfortable world to recognize other human beings is a noble act. Sharing our experiences with others is even better…What if all conflict photographers stopped doing what they do? What if all the cameras were turned inward or focused only on things we enjoy?

    Last year I went to India- a country with endless social issues- and I admit, I initially just wanted to experience something for myself, and to expand my portfolio. But all the “observing” I did made me a more conscious person, and raised consciousness in general. My partner and I photographed a hospital burn ward for a few weeks with the intention of publishing and raising awareness, maybe bringing in funds for the hospital- a tiny endeavor in the grand scheme of all the suffering we saw. In the end the images were never published and it was upsetting. But looking back, I made connections with some wonderful people, lifted their spirits, made them feel that someone cares. Just by being there. And those close to me that have heard the stories, seen the pictures, are now also more conscious about the world around them. Maybe they aren’t donating to this particular cause…but it’s about small steps man! It’s pretentious to think we’ll make huge leaps in social change as photographers, but to me it makes sense to educate and be educated.

  • Great eyes Dima, Great eyes! Rather lengthy in my opinion, but you still had me captivated with the vast majority of your images. Each one is very well seen. In terms of the narrative (esp. in the first piece) the story could be expanded, but overall very strong work. Will certainly revisit later this evening when I have more time.

  • it can be helpful…
    to promote awareness..
    for the larger picture (not photograph)..
    to educate..
    to communicate….
    as a language..
    as a tool for
    expression…
    to promote dialogue…
    I think it has to do with a photogs
    INTENT
    with a story…
    But to say it is worthless…
    I dunno….
    makes me sad…
    quiet now….
    **

  • Ian, I’m not devaluing the essay. It is exactly what it is. The photographer, as I’ve said, is an excellent photographer. Technically and artistically he is very good. If the photographer’s goal was to draw attention to his photography he succeeded. I an see this on a newspaper page, in an essay, on a gallery wall. But, again in my opinion, and as I’ve posted, I think this kind of photography, considering its lack of impact on the people’s lives, is exploitive.

  • Wendy, the world is filled with good intentions.

  • Dima, good essay. Some very good photography here. The essay as shown here is a little long for me, as is the lapse between photographs. Some repetition of similar scenes. Needs an edit to increase it’s effect. For me.

    Also a very good discussion. Does this kind of photography actually help?

    Some here say that we are awash with this kind of story but, actually, are we? I don’t think so. As photographers we may see many examples of this genre but does the general public? Again, I don’t think so. They see what the celebrities are wearing and who they are dating / divorcing; they read about the top ten consumer items etc. but little hard news. If hard news is shown it is usually sanitized so that the viewers are not too shocked by the horrors that too many people have to endure.

    Does showing photographs such as these do any good? Yes. The simple answer is yes. As others have pointed out in other discussions, our opinions and values are shaped over time. It may be immediate for some and more of a drip-feed for others but our sense of right and wrong is shaped by what we see as well as by what we personally experience.

    The 1984 famine in Ethiopia was revealed to the world by television and still images that shocked the world and gave rise to the Band Aid concerts that raised millions of pounds / dollars etc. and shamed many a government in the process. Band Aid showed that the public were willing, no eager, to help their fellow Man. Did they help the people who were actually photographed? YES!! At a later concert some of the children facing starvation were on stage as a testament to the public’s success.

    Should Auschwitz be closed to the public? No. It should be required viewing for every teenager who can possibly visit.

    Photographers who takes such photographs are, for the most part, dedicated to bringing the horror that they witness to the attention of the public. Too often they are stifled by the newspaper industry who fill their papers with celebrity froth.

    Dima, I do hope that you can join us here to answer some of the points raised.

    Best wishes,

    Mike.

  • I said this earlier, but I think it bears repeating. The IDP camps are officially closed, many of these huts have been razed and most of these internal refugees have left for home or places closer to home.

    Now, I’m sure there are some who oppose the Gulu camps closing, who say its not safe, who say they’ll just end up in the same circumstances in a different place (pessimism) who say the violence is just taking place in another area of the country BUT there is more peace than before and this means there has been progress in the right direction.

    Pictures like these certainly won’t influence everyone to act, but they do influence some. Pictures are far more persuasive than words with this subject…And I’m sure every aid worker, donor, or volunteer who supported all the NGOs ran on this camp saw a picture before deciding to help. Thousands of people and humanitarian organizations not only have tried to help, but they’ve succeeded in helping. Sure, there are still rampant problems, but there’s no quick fix to this or any circumstances like it. Photographs like these keep encouraging people to fund the NGOs or rally for international help.

    And as a result, the “night commuters” have survived. Children have received vaccinations and education. People have gone home.

    How can that be called “hoplessness”? How can you see that and not feel inspired?

  • Jim Powers what do you think about what Christina just stated?

  • I am not very knowledgeable about the situation in Uganda… which is why the name is so perfect.
    These photos sure helped me understand the situation a lot better – the mutilations, the living conditions, the struggle to exist. I feel it’s an excellent documentation and well executed to boot. I could see this in a special issue of a major magazine or a book all its own.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • So they closed the camps. So show me some photos of the same people in better circumstances. I’d close the camps, too, and then the problems aren’t all in one place easily photographed.

  • Dima, just had a quick look at your website: fantastic! Wonderful use of colour – and B&W. You have been to places that I have only dreamed about. Your work is a vindication of photography as a learning tool.

    The wonderful photographs of exotic places only help to increase the indignation felt when viewing scenes of war and need. I would not have heard of obstetric fistula – in Niger or anywhere else were it not for photography. The condition is relatively easy to cure in the West but causes untold misery in some countries due to poverty and cultural behavior patterns. How do i know? I read about it in an essay on a photographic website: you know; one of those essays that we are awash with that serve no purpose other than the photographers self-aggrandizement.

    Christina, thanks for the update on the situation in Uganda.

    Best wishes,

    Mike.

  • Joe

    You wrote “with each image i kept holding my breath wondering if you could possibly ‘exact‘ yet another compositional invention. You always did. i was utterly amazed with your solutions.”

    I agree with pretty much everything you mentioned. I also agree with the opinion of some that there are too many photographs.

    First, to re-state the obvious, this is a photographer of enormous talent. This is spectacular stuff. Almost every single photograph here is very strong on it’s own. It is a catologue of masterful compositions. Very very nicely done, to the point where it is a distraction. I’m enjoying the photography more than I’m thinking about the message.

    This is a tough one. Do we suggest Dima should “dumb down” his photographs?

    Is every situation a photo-op? I’ve been wondering if I’m treating my whole life as a photo-op. Is there anything wrong with treating everything as a photo-op? After all, for many of us, the camera is absolutely and extention of our eyes, a device that helps us look very hard at what is going on around us, and to be aware of significant moments in the stream of time.

    A lot of this discussion is “deja vu all over again”. Important questions raised to be sure. Not likely to reach any sort of consensus or change very many minds, or change the world. This is a forum about photography however. And we are seeing some amazing photography.

    Gordon L

  • amazing work

    отлично

  • Jim, you write like a naif, someone who has no sense of a long tradition photography and reportage, a century of intellectual and aesthetic debates about witness to suffering, the careers of dozens of photographers from dozens of countries, how media impacts perception, photography as manipulation, seeing vs. advocating, etc. I’m not saying you are not aware of the considerable intellectual history of photography, but you choose to write willfully ignorant of it. So your Burn responses are little more than itemized personal gripes. The photos fail you for various silly, petulant reasons.

    So you don’t like Dima’s photos because you can’t figure out why he took them? You want to know what motivated him? You don’t like the pictures because they don’t advocate for or enact change? Because they don’t help the suffering Ugandans?

    Honestly, Jim, this is drivel. Photos are photos. They don’t DO anything. The photog can be a total bastard or Mother Teresa herself — we all know examples of each — and what possible difference does it make? Why is this not clear to you? Why do you continually ask the Burn photogs to justify their work to you?

    You bring nothing to the debate. You don’t bring compelling counter arguments, gadfly positions, challenging assertions. You bring nothing at all.

  • Some powerful images and a story that needs to be told…. but…..I would say the essay would better serve itself cut in half and some of the more “clever” compositions extracted (and repeats). I found myself too aware at times of the photographers presence (dare I say “manipulation”) to the detriment of the subjects and their plight. At times it became too much of an exercise in creating interesting images when in fact (too me) the most interesting and effective images were the most straightforward ones.

    Interestingly enough, Dima seems to buck the trend on Burn- to me the most powerful images tended to be the verticals which often isn’t the case here. The picture of the boy with mush on his mouth reminds me of the classic shot of the Korean war GI with the thousand yard stare. No need to shoot through foreground objects etc etc – just a fragile human face in the midst of their plight.

  • From Stoops link:

    “You don’t “take” pictures, you make pictures; you make them well and use them to communicate, to help the people and the situation. Many times the suffering people in the Sahel would see me working and they would ask me to come and photograph them or a loved one as a way of helping to solve the problem. In time they come to your camera like they would come to a microphone, they come to speak through your lens.” –– Sebastiao Salgado

    I think this says it all. As photojournalists we give the subjects a voice as well as create a record of proof of their existence. And what I mean by “proof of their existence” is that most people leave some type of mark on the world, no matter how small. Most are remembered in some way by their family, friends, photographs, people they touched in their lives…. A lot of the people that photojournalists photograph in these horrible situations, will not be remembered. Mainly because the people who would remember are also dying or being killed. Some are born and die with no record that they ever existed. To me that is a shameful waste.

    Preston… well said.

  • Gordon, “the camera is absolutely an extention of our eyes, a device that helps us look very hard at what is going on around us” – absolutely! Nothing makes you see; really see, as carrying a camera.

    Preston, I’d like to see Jim post and then play devil’s advocate and contradict himself.

    Good light to all,

    Mike.

  • I’m bored with comments that start with “Jim”.

    Mike.

  • long view please.

    dima –

    i’m a bit disappointed with your characterization of the situation in northern uganda being the result of the lra. after spending extensive time working in the region i find it not merely shortsighted but negligent. i’m not sure of your working methods nor whom you chose to speak with on the ground but know all too well that this conflict does not exist for the will of joseph kony but the power mongering of yuwero museveni. your description echoes the mass media’s limited portrayal of the last decade and further entrenches the misunderstanding of this conflict. museveni received hundreds of millions a year (and i believe still does – though my research was all in the middle of the decade) from the united states along with material military resources for the sole ‘purpose’ of dealing with the north. all of this bounty was/is contingent upon the existence of a threat, the continuation of the lra, kony, the abductions, mutilations etc. i completed 50 interviews with former child soldiers in 2005 – all of them well away from the ngos – many whom served kony directly. none of them placed the core surrounding kony at over 100. the point?

    this war does not exist because of kony. profiling the lra as holding the sole responsibility for this conflict is negligent. the ugandan government could have ended this a decade ago. the numbers simply don’t compute – a hundred rebels with a hundred children (all of them most likely being watched by satellite) opposing the most well funded army in east africa? hmmm…

    of course, the question becomes, why doesn’t the ugandan government want this to end? is it just the money? the tanks? no. that’s only half the story.

    the other side of museveni’s ‘inaction’ regarding the north is a result of a power dynamic that has existed in the country for most of the last century, that drives museveni and his cronies to maintain the north in a marginalized state. the entire post-colonial history of uganda has been defined by a north / south power struggle that began during the british rule and intensified as a result of their disproportionate choosing of the north, particularly the acholi and langi, to act as military, police, security. the north was better and more often trained for the kings african rifles and as a result would later preside over a period of supremacy over the south (milton obote). this, as power dynamics often tend to do, would eventually be flipped and the southern bugandans would could to dominate with a twisted, heavy hand (idi amin). this, in turn, would be flipped again (back to milton obote and briefly tito okello).

    and again, finally, it flipped us to the present museveni regime.

    museveni needs kony and the lra to maintain his grip over the country. in effect, the lra is the ‘easiest’ way to marginalize his traditional political opposition. this is no accident. it’s no accident that museveni changed the constitution in 05′ and sent unmarked military to depose his political opposition during elections. sound familiar? yes, this is africa, museveni is not the poster african leader of the 90′s. he never was.

    kony is not the problem, the source, the supply, the cause – he is the effect, the symptom, the demand.

    please look further into ugandan history, predating the king’s african rifles, and present this conflict for the complex situation that it is. a failure to do so may result in the opposite effect than the one you hope to have by further entrenching a misunderstanding as to the root causes of the situation. further, kony and the lra – as they exist in the media – are precisely the stereotype of african savagery that has existed in the west since before colonialism. by employing this narrative you not merely fail to communicate the complexity of the situation but you disarm our own imagery by branding them with the myth of the “African Savage®.” Most of your audience will never step foot in Africa – the last thing you want is to appeal to this cheap myth, this otherness.

    i have stayed anonymous here because i don’t have time to respond nor do i wish to participate publicly in such a dialogue. i have posted this information because i feel that the audience should not view such powerful, well crafted imagery without it. dima, i will send you an email in case you should wish to discuss this further.

  • DIMA: This is a very powerful essay. Strong compositions, congratulations. The only thing I would say is that there may be too many images of the children, just a personal opinion…. I sincerely hope you are going back to do long term coverage and not leaving the story where it is.

    JIM
    I think every photographer in these situations has their own motives for going to such places. Sure, there are the “conflict voyeurs” who only want to build a portfolio. Or worse still, the spectre of “slum tourism” where travellers pay to be taken through slums.

    I feel that it is imperative to have your motives set before you go to do this sort of work, because there will always be some naysayer who can’t wait to jump on your case. For me it was my brother in law who said to me “I admire what you’re doing, but you’re not going to make a difference” I answered, “What difference could I make if I was still working in the supermarket?”

    I decided before my first trip away that if I didn’t make a big enough splash when I returned home (highlighting the problem, not my profile), then I wouldn’t return. The airfare money etc would be better sent directly back to an orphanage etc.

    I am in the process of organising a small trust; all money will go directly back to a local orphanage/school, (back to the coal face). There will be no “middle man” clipping the ticket. Even $50 will be enough to buy a sack of rice for the kids at the orphanage.

    I am also seeking sponsorship through a camera company to provide some point and shoot cameras to the same people. When I go back (soon), I will take a week out of my month photo trip to run a small course for the kids. The cameras will be left there to continue the course. I have seen similar courses work wonders with underprivileged children in the squatter settlements of Port Vila (Vanuatu).

    I have also undertaken many lectures (all at my own cost) to highlight the problems back home. My own point of view may be different though. At the age of 46 I know I will never have children, but would like to think that I can do something that may bring help to others who are less fortunate than me.

    Jim; I feel that in some ways newspaper (spot news) photojournalism is probably one of the most cynical forms of photography. Go to the disaster, take cliché “news” images and then off to the next trouble spot. And look how much news coverage we are finally getting from DRC after Bleasdale and others first highlighted the ongoing problem there…

    But conversely, documentary photographers should also feel duty bound to do long term in-depth coverage of their story. A few weeks is never enough either & makes you just as cynical as the newspaper photojournalist.

    If I don’t reply to any comments it’s just that usually my comments end up in spam, and I’ve gone to the library specifically to look at this essay and comment.

    Thank you.

  • Wow.

  • Observations and emotions that don’t lead to some kind of action are worthless.
    —————————————————

    Your best one-liner I can recall, Jim. You are damned right. At the same time, if all you can elicit, reading long view’s post, is a “wow”, I am definitely more worried about the survival of News, compared to, say…. Photography! :-)

    Longview, frankly, fuck the myth of the african savage. It never held the machetes, guns that killed and maimed millions in Liberia, Rwanda, Darfur, Congo and etc….

    IMO

  • Herve, so you think you response was any better?

    This thread is about to spin way out of control, I fear.

  • Thanks for your post longview.
    I’m sure you know lots about the region and its issues, and I’m tempted to ask you a few questions regarding the role of Southern Sudan and the International Crime Court arrest warrants issued agains LRA leaders, but I guess this is definitely not the place to do it. Perhaps your post, along with all we’ve been discussing about, will make people want to learn more about it all.

  • Dima, these are really strong images. They are powerful, beautiful and sad.

    What “long view please” has said is very informative. It seems to me that your text simply serves as an introduction to place the photos in context. You are using your photos to tell the story, they are your testimony.

    The photos need context, so you need some text to give that. In a situation like Uganda it must be a massive job to strip the situation down to facts as I imagine there are many people with agendas trying to control and distort information.

    At the end of the day you have taken these photos. They should be seen, you have to put them out there – that is why you took them. They are great photos and you have done an awesome job. It would be a terrible waste if you just kept them on your hard-drive for another 12 months while you researched the situation in Uganda a bit more thoroughly!

    I deeply agree with the sentiments of “long view please” with regards to your responsiblity to not perpetuate misinformtion (I am not saying you are – I just don’t know enough myself to judge). It sounds like he may be the perfect person to team up with – his text with your photos. (Of course assuming he checks out OK and is not pushing his own agenda!)

    Keep up the good work.

  • Normally I am quite wary when confronted with images of ‘decay’ on the African continent. It is true that some photographers go there with motives that aren’t totally pure. They are perhaps looking to be the next Salgado for example, at the expense of their subjects. Their motives normally come across in their work – how they interact and connect with their subjects. I would also say that ‘conflict’ photography is a specialised genre of photography. Not many photographers can take photographs of people in such harsh conditions, while still leaving their subjects with a certain dignity in the photographs.

    So, I found this essay compelling. Dima was one of the few photographers who managed to portray his/her subjects in a stark light, while at the same time not stripping them of perhaps the only thing they have left when all is said and done – to be able to still gaze into the lens while preserving their dignity. When a photographer strips that away and humiliates them for cheap gain such as recognition or fame, then it is surely a tragedy. However, Dima managed to preserve their dignity while at the same time delivering their story in a truely unique and artistic way.

    Dima’s delivery and technique was perfect. Some writers mentioned above that is was almost too perfect – I disagree. Dima has given the people he photographed justice in that his technique was excellent and there wasn’t any wasted shots in the essay through lack of photographic skill. I would prefer to view this conflict photography through the lens of an accomplished photographer such as Dima, than an amateur with little technique who was in the region for cheap fame.

    I have rarely posted on this website due to time constraints, but I enjoy reading the dialogue and viewing the photos when I get the chance. DAH has done an excellent job in giving photographers the chance to get their work out there.

    Joe in his first comments raised some excellent questions about the photographer’s technique that I would also love to hear. I would have to disagree with Jim who calls into account the motives of the photographer. This is not necessary and the photographer’s motives should be illuminated in their work/essay. It is up to the viewer to summise that. I was not aware of this ongoing war and I am sure that their are many others who log onto this website and are also ignorant of these displaced people’s plight.

    Thankyou,
    Johan

  • Johan, now you are aware. What will your response be?

  • Too much Jim Powers, too little Dima.

  • WOW!

    There is a lot going on here…

    DIMA

    I think that the photos are well crafted, beautiful in their own manner, though I would edit them down a fair bit. Number 18 is an absolute kicker though. I’d reckon thats the winner… Makes me think…

    All

    The discussion about the validity of photography as a tool for change is, in my humble opinion, totally irrelevant and has been as MR VINK so succinctly puts it, all said before. What is relevant is GRACIE’s childs reaction to the photos and LONGVIEW’s informative post.

    Both are human reactions- one from a child who has (fortunately) no idea of the crimes that people will commit on one another, because of necessity or hunger for power and has no idea of the implications of such an image that he has seen. He tried to explain it as best he can, in a positive sense that does not strip the subject of the photograph of their essential dignity. ‘She will be able to breate more air’

    GRACIE will now have to offer up an explanation to her child and having read what she has written before I am sure that she will do it with tenderness and integrity, but without creating a fantasy about the situation in Uganda. This explanation will stay with her child forever and with luck he too will have a realisation that somethings do not need to be done to other people and he will lead a better life because he is aware of that.

    LONGVIEW has obviously researched Uganda extensively and he/she has a very acute comprehension of the WHOLE story and the actual human cost and of the people of Uganda. The complexities of situations that are similar to the Ugandan story right across the world can often only really be told by people who have spent an inordinate amount of time with their subjects or as in the case of photography can really get ‘inside’ their subjects. The link that STOOP gave us has a great explanation that SALGADO suggests as the approach he takes. (never thought I’d say this, but hey thanks STOOP)

    Correct me if I am wrong DIMA but were you shooting primarily for an NGO? I think that there is a difficulty with that because well you often get chauffered around to see a particular point of view which can often put a pyschological distance between yourself and the subject. I mean the photographs are sometimes breath takingly beautiful but as LONGVIEW points out there is more to this story than meets the eye.

    So while I often question people’s motivations in photographing this kind of subject matter (I remember a discussion on homeless people, that I got caned for for questioning the photographers motives) I don’t think that DIMA’s motivations were about anything other than trying to get out a decent (and I use that in the proper sense of the word) story- he has treated his subjects with a dignity that a five year old child can recognise.

    So do these photographs adequately tell a story that could act as a catalyst as a tool for change…probably yes and no. And really I think thats pretty good, afterall we can only try.

  • “What will your response be?”- well Jim, the best that I have managed in the four or so hours that I first saw the essay and subsequently posted, is to surf the net using google as my search engine, while utilising the key search words that I memorised today: LRA @ IDP. Using Dima’s essay as a base or launch, I have marginally investigated a subject that I was admittedly ignorant about before.

    No, I haven’t donated a monetary contribution in that four hours, I haven’t booked a flight to Uganda to enrol for a voluntary position with a famine agency and perhaps most telling, I haven’t mangaged to find a solution to this complex problem. Hence, maybe I am not pragmatic as you had expected Jim, but as I wrote in my original reply to the photo essay, there maybe someone else who finds Dima’s piece on Burn, or published elsewhere on the net/print. Consequently, that person may have the power to instigate real change within the international community. The most important thing is that Dima’s piece is now out ‘there’ in circulation and in addition it has been photographed/edited very well. A professional essay, executed with artistic flair and as far as motives, well that is best left for the viewer to extrapolate.

    It’s sometimes a sick world we live in Jim, hell I’m no doctor, but I’m certainly not ready to be institutionalised in a retirement home for pessimists.

  • Jim, (sorry Mike R) there is a difference between ambulance chasing and good documentary. One is for shock news value and there is little public response except shock horror, the other is for understandin and longterm awareness. I think you might be mixing the two.

  • I would like to thank everyone for their comments.

    To “long view” and Jarrod H: I was not trying to tell the entire history of Uganda — this is a snapshot into the lives of the refugees as I saw it in 2006 while working with Doctors Without Borders.

  • Dima’s entry into this discussion is somewhat anti-climatic.

    I would also like to ask why Jim is receiving a lot of flak for his comments while I get off scott free? Are we all as a group (myself included) polarised around Jim’s comments once again?

  • I would also like to ask why Jim is receiving a lot of flak for his comments while I get off scott free?……..just lucky

  • JonanthanJK you raised an interesting point: that the photographer is recycling the material without doing something drastically different. I’m wondering myself what else could the photographer have brought to the table that was different from main stream conflict photography. Names of the people in the photos could certainly personalise the essay, but would that help solve the crisis?

    For example, I remember that Steve McCurry’s famous photo of the Afghan girl had a name attached and a willing media/public following the story as she was located for the second portrait. That certainly brought a lot of attention/financial assistance to the plight of Afghani women in general. I think before and after stories probably garner more media attention because there is the concept of resolution. Did for example, McCurry’s photograph with the subject’s name solve the precarious position of women within Afghanistan? According to media reports, that country still has a long way to go with women’s rights. However as most readers know well, his two photographs with accompanying essay raised awareness and large financial donations.

    Hence, before and after stories with individual subjects is one way to maintain interest in a conflict. As contributors have pointed out, the western media is often inundated with stories of mass disaster, conflict, humanitarian crisis, famine. So, in a way people can become desensitized to these stories. However, a long term story of an individual with a name attached can prove compelling viewing. That for me was the where the beauty of Steve McCurry’s story lay.

    Anyway, it would be good to see the photographer contribute more to the discussion and answer some of the questions from the other contributors.

  • JonathanJK,
    Sorry if you feel left out:-)
    You give valid reason and clear expression to your thoughts.

  • @ Ian Aitken its not feeling left out, its this reaction everybody has towards Jim and then concentrating all discussion on Jim’s statements, as one of the few to closely align my thoughts with Jim’s I thought I’d be in the firing line, and then after that the discussion would be between everyone. Jim is the centre of the discussion again and I find it interesting when Jim is a very ‘poke the universe’ kind of person, and everybody reacts even when they don’t want to.

    Patricia Lay-Dorsey’s comment, ‘Too much Jim Powers, too little Dima,’ is an example of this, its just noise in the discussion.

    @Johan Jaansen, the personal touch in the essay would have been appreciated, but don’t focus too much on this. To me doing something different would be to stop painting people as victims, and maybe photograph those causing the problems. The photography that is coming out of North Korea is very exciting at the moment because we don’t know much about that country, and what photographs do come out, are pointed at the institutions that govern. Photographs of the people would also be interesting but that isn’t possible at the moment, but in any case (can’t remember the names) the photographers bringing back essay material with limited access is very interesting.

    My point is Dima should have more freedom in Uganda compared to North Korea, pointing the camera at the victims is easier when I think the solution is to point it at those who can be held accountable for the misery that is going on there. Especially when people (myself included) are becoming desensitised to starving/naked/crying/limbless Africans, I think a break is needed.

  • joathanDK,

    I agree there is a level of desensitisation, I also agree that I too have a knee jerk reaction to Jim because this is the way he has set out his stall and I kick myself when I react to it. Things do get a bit Jimcentric and that often detracts from the real issues.

  • I used to believe that using my camera to shine light into the darkness would bring about change. Over the years I’ve learned that is rarely the case. The same light that exposes the bad guys to the public eye can expose their victims to worse consequences. And often the light simply reveals that the relationships between the actor and the victim are complicated beyond understanding, and all the light in the world won’t change anything. And to a public awash in images of all kinds, few note the photographs very long. Another abused woman, another abused child, another case of racial cleansing, millions of more people starving to death while surrounded by food that some political power or another won’t let them have, and who we have no power to influence (because they don’t care what the world thinks).

    Dima appears not to have had any agenda. From his brief post, he was there. He shot some photos. Great. I guess the bigger question, then, is why they ended up in an essay on Burn. Why did he submit them here? He says they are a snapshot of a specific time and place. The camps are gone. Time has moved on. What is left is the photographs. Questions without answers. What happened to these people? Are their lives better? Have they all now starved to death? Been brutally killed? Questions for which we’ll never have answers. The photographer appears to have little sustained emotional involvement. What’s the point?

    But they are well made photos.

  • i would guess that dima is just not struggling too much with the issues raised..

    at a guess.
    :ø/

  • Much as though I have disagreed with what Jim has said in the past, on this occasion he raises valid questions that go to the core of this sort of photography.

    It’s a shame that these important questions have tagged themselves onto Dima’s piece here on BURN because I love his work. But in my opinion these questions are too important to sweep under the carpet, and maybe a bit too painful for many people to discuss.

  • The annoying technical note! Some images have very darkened skies (I’m guessing filtering through photoshop and not an actual filter on lens), while others are blown white. I find this lack of consistency a bit distracting.

  • 2006 could be seen as opening old wounds. This opening of old wounds is something that some nations/sectors of societies have turned into an political art form and use photos to advance their cause. Unfortunately and probably unfairly these actions in turn tar a lot of other work like Dima’s with the same feather.

  • Beside my own view on this discussion, I must try look at things from Jim’s point of view, to have a balance in my own stupid head. Jim reminded me or something important. I know a man who went to the poorest parts of the world to visit, and came back with a will to dig wells in villages without water. Little money, lots of heart. He took along a camera and recorded all the good that came to a whole village because of one well he succeeded in financing by himself. He brought those pictures back to the rich world and used them to raise more money from friends, to dig more wells. He raised so much money that now he’s branched out from only digging wells, to also building schools. He supplied cameras to the villagers to record their own successes. So much money is pouring in now, he had to establish a charitable organization. This may not be the point Jim is trying to make. But it is the one I’ll take away from this discussion.

  • Thanks for the Happy Up-Beat Ending Stoop. We always remember best the last note of a song.

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