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”

  • That’s funny. Imants, I don’t have much on the web. It’s not my thing. You must be a late comer to the game, here. The only thing I have on the web are 50 feature photos I shot for the newspaper chain I am an editor for last year. And I put them on the web only because folks from the area where I live asked me to after a gallery show I did featuring those photos. I have, though, posted that link here. But I doubt they have much appeal beyond my area.

    After 40 years as a newspaper shooter, I focus on the upbeat these days.

    Still not sure how that has anything do with the validity of my opinions, though.

  • Joe, how is this a witch hunt. I have said repeatedly that I thought the photographs were outstanding and the photographer talented.

  • must have missed it……and the link is, thanks in advance. People here have varied interests

  • JIM:

    Now, I am holding my tongue, but, frankly, I find your comment “Burn, there needs to be some kind of journalistic integrity in the decision making on publishing it. Otherwise Burn should stick to fine art and photos of prostitutes.” not only crude, purposefully incendiary and absurdly so far amark that I am at a loss to decide how best to go about answering you. But, ok, some basic working description:

    First, David is the publisher, curator and ultimate arbitor of what is published on Burn. He has final decision and ultimately is the only one who says who, when and why something is decided. I am the editor and working very very hard (for some time now, before it went ‘public’) at it. David and I work in tandem, with Anton (who without, there would be NO Burn) to produce the content and ideas of this magazine. All of this is done on a volunteer basis and at some considerable amount of personal investment for each of us. Anton has put in an extraordinary amount of time, effort and patience in making the geers on this clock click. However, there have been a whole/entire host of people working tirelessly behind the scenes for 5 months on keeping this ship afloat. This is not a 1 person or 3 person operation, but a literally-speaking group effort. I might add that the magazine would also not exist without the contributions of the commentators, who are just as integral and as important as anything that David, Anton, Carrie, Tom or I do.

    As editor, I bring to David work and photographers from around the world through a network of colleagues, friends, galleries, agencies as well as my own digging. I’ve just spent the last 2 1/2 weeks doing just that. However, the VAST MAJORITY of work that has come into Burn comes entirely unsoliticited, through submissions. These are generated by the magazine and word-of-mouth itself. All of the work published by Burn was work that was submitted. As editor, I look at pictures, essays, contact photograhers, engage in conversation and dialog with them and suggest possible fits to David. We discuss, debate, argue, agree. We have a very close and fraternal relationship and work well as a team. But, ultimately, this magazine is David’s vision. I am only a friend and colleague who believes in his vision and is working hard to see it brought to life.

    Ultimately, David decides who is published, what is published and when. I stand 100% side-by-side with all of his decisions. As editor, it’s my responsibility to stand by the cotent and to offer, if necessary, an editorial perspective as to the value and insight of the work. As editor of Burn, my job is to tell make sure Burn is as challenging and exciting as possible. My job also is to lessen the weight of David’s work load as best as I can. David saw this essay first (it came as a submission, and I was not aware of Dima’s work until it came into Burn).

    I am sure that David will speak later if he wishes (although frankly, I find your questioning of the validity of the editorial decisions spurious), and offer you the larger perspective on Burn and your questioning of the Magazine’s editorial decisions. Questioning our integrity is not only brazen, but frankly, so scattered shot that even I am amazed. To begin with, Burn is not a newspaper. It is a showcase of the work of photographers. The use, application and context of content is very different. Running journalistic pictures in a magazine dedicated to photography does not invalidate either their historical, journalistic worth, nor does it impinge the integrity of the editors. I’ve been, by the way, to exhibitions of Nachtwey’s work in galleries that ‘strip’ the context-of-immediacy away, and the pictures still remain as testament and witness. Publishing photographs in a newspaper (a media defined by the requirement, generally, of promulgating information that is focused on the timeliness of an issue, primarily) has a completely different mandate, standard and goal. I am, frankly surprised, that since you bring to the magazine ’40 years’ of experience, you have failed to realize or eloquently pitch this difference. What I suspect in your hyperbole, is that you find Dima’s work distateful, unethical and wrong-headed because you see it’s concerns (and the fact that we published it) as a gesture of self-aggrandizement rather than dedication to the content (the people and the historical facts; i.e, the camps have been closed). Burn is not a source of journalism but photography. That this story represents one person’s story about a group of people and their struggle with the war does not vitiate it’s power or its validity.

    I guess you’ll be even more incensed when I bring to Burn (soon) a story, by a journalist, that deals with a catastrophic event.

    I am disheartened that you view Burn and the photographers whose work we publish and the decisions that Burn makes through such an convulted lens. That is unfortunate.

    all the best

  • Bob, I’m not in favor of putting journalistic work up in galleries, either (Nacthwey, for instance).

    Journalism in general should not become a common commodity. And journalists should not become media stars. It is for journalism I advocate. Just because it is becoming “art” and a commodity doesn’t mean that is the best outcome. You are arguing that because things are as they are with journalism, that is as they should be. I disagree.

    I’m not questioning your integrity. Just asking that you consider the impact of your decisions.

  • I’m sorry Jim, ‘witch-hunt’ was a bit sweeping. I’m a bit ashamed i put it that way.

    Is it fair to say Jim that you are ‘inhibiting’ the desire for the photographer to paricipate because the starting point for the photographer was to justify why the photos were even here or why they were even took in the first place?

  • No, Joe. The photographer was clear why he took the photos and the context (working with Doctors without Borders). No problem at all with that. I was wondering at the rationale for giving them a bully pulpit here on Burn. Apparently the editor felt they had merit as art.

  • Jim:

    one thing that is true about Burn (from the beginning) and is true about David (I say this as his friend and colleague) and is true about myself: all is open. We do not hide or are concerned about ‘protecting’ editorial content/decisions. We’re, like the web itself, trying to be as open as possible, including sharing the mechanism of decision-making processes. That’s david in a nutshell.

    The debate about the ‘use’ of journalistic imagery (how should these stories be used, sold, profited by, etc) is a long and complex discussion. Your question begs a more complex one, one that has been discussed here and elsewhere. What is the moral or legitimate place to use, showcase and sell photogrpahic work that exposes misery and suffering. Profiting on the suffering of others, even within the context of document, witness or reportage. However, newspapers also exist to profit. As an editor, surely you know that. That even the best of newspapers need advertising and earmark their budgets accordingly. The issue of whether or not to photograph someone/story and how to distribute/use/sell it is really a very very profound and difficult one. ALL photographers worth their merit who practice documentary work think or reflect or struggle with this.

    This conversation also exists here at Burn. Yes, we do put in considerable thought and discussion(in emails, over a beer, across a wooden table outside the Drake hotel before a Magnum lecture) about the consequences (both good and ill) of what we’re trying to do.

    David, can add more. Maybe, i’ll write a post that generates discussion about this issue. Rest assure, we are not flippant nor unaware of what and why things are published. David is a pretty sharp tack and a humane one. That should be readily apparent by now.

    all the best

  • there has been these questions of ‘why now’ and ‘why this’?

    hasnt it occurred to you jim that this may be dima’s best work and this just happened to be 3 years ago and on this topic? he did not go on assignment for burn. burn asks for submissions. if dima felt this was his best work, this is the only work that he can submit. therefore, this has nothing to do with timeliness as was your argument. in essence, if my best work was about documenting the horrors of world war II this would be the work i would submit.

    i think it is clear about what you argue for, accuracy in journalism as it is supposed to be for, sensitivity instead of gain, these have not been the real stimulus to this discussion.

    it is your criticism of burn as a whole and the extra insensitive (ironically) snippets
    you say that have incensed most.

  • Jim, i don’t think your impact is as simple and benign as the comment you just delivered. There’s loads of comments that make it seem like we were all aruging against you for the merit of this essay. What photographer would want to wade into that without danger-pay?

  • Joe, if my comments chill people’s desire to have their work published here, and they hope for a career in photography, they had better grow much thicker skin! I once had an editor that would either publish my photo or say, “burn it and stir the ashes.”

  • “I once had an editor that would either publish my photo or say, “burn it and stir the ashes.” So you feel that just bcause that happened to you justifies the aggressive quasi editorial role you seem to have taken up here.
    Then as an editor you would be more used to selecting images to increase circulation of the newspaper, otherwise your job would be on the chopping block. This must be new territory for you seeing that there is no money involved in this fantasy role of yours
    Catcha later midnight here

  • joe – man, i would really dig into this were it my work and not be put off in the slightest.. all i can think is that dima has some peace about what he does..

    i do think that a comment from him could have kept us more on track and also helped to focus the discussion.. people exploring intentions and motivations is obviously not relevant to him, although some indication or responce could have pulled us back to the point rather than towards the various digressions and too-ing and frowing.. some kind of balance could be bought back.

    you know what though? perhaps there is an element of self-flattery on my behalf that us comment lurkers are worthy of engagement.. certainly there are interesting points going on.. and on the first page some interesting questions, but without the input of the works author the interest becomes limited in a way.
    i think that mishas in your face is one of my favourate threads here because of his interaction and willingness to engage the audience.. i think it has also helped to keep things on track.

    and so.. far from wanting dima to justify himself or take the heat or accusations of some points raised i hoped his interaction would have helped direct and helped form the opinions of some of the people exploring what are contemporary issues in the digital age – the age of cheap airline tickets and the era of ‘holidays in hell’.

    on another point – someone mentioned that there is no code of conduct for PJ’s and that is quite right.. anyone with a digicam can play the game..
    i would recommend finding and downloading PDNs e-book regarding ethics which i cannot for the life of me find a link to right now – read and think on it.. there is a little from history and a little on contemporary practise which could help people reach conclusions within their own practise in order to move forward clear-headedly on just what constitutes a worthy subject to practise upon.. and how to go about sensitive issues in a way which helps the subjects, the viewers and the photographer find balance.

    briefly – i have enjoyed reading thoughts and theories spinning around here and so – thanks – to all of the main contributors to the discussion for that..
    a photographer who photographs far from simple or benign subjects needs to think carefully and have a measured personal goal, because it will bring comments which are far from simple and benign.

    i have yet to read this page above and so may tuck into it again – although to be honest i think the ground covered is all-encompasing and i’m not sure of what i could add at this stage .. there is obviously more to be said and thought and as with so many things in life, it may take the rest of life to reach a conclusion :ø)

    as an aside my perspective has come from photographing hardship in my teens.. living with and amougst those i was photographing and becomeing involved with the dynamics therein – i do not really dig ‘hit-and-run’ snapping in any form.
    poverty, mortality and pain.. witnessing more than i could photograph to the point that i wanted to spend 10 years involved with celebration and unity..
    go figure :ø)

    much respect to all

  • “if my comments chill people’s desire to have their work published here, and they hope for a career in photography, they had better grow much thicker skin!”

    and in part jim that is why i enjoy reading your posts, regardless of agreeing or not.. and regardless of how editors present themselves.
    people who see work in any publication or gallery have the right to reply.. and to experience for themselves.. to me thats the whole point of it.. BUT it is a paralell happening and not central to the photographer.. it goes on alongside..

    did sid viscious give a fuck what anyone thought?
    dicussion and argument is all good by me – trying to silence an opinion no matter how obnoxious or toxic it may seem is most certainly not.
    pea’s n chips.

  • nb – “obnoxious or toxic” is not attributed to anyone – i’m merly trying to use relative terms in a non-specific way.

  • Imants, if I cared about the money, I would never have become a PJ!

  • nnb – jim – i wonder if the answers you are after lay within dima rather than the editorial team here.. since this is a site of photography and not of current news..
    okay.. too much.. getting bored of the sound of my own tapping..

    days when i’ve been teaching
    can push me towards preaching, and so
    the less time i spend
    massaging my own end
    the better it will be for us all


  • Powerful compositions. Just knowledge of the craft and a pure photographic vision. It effects me and that’s good. As just a spectator and photographer myself, I will leave further interpretations and thoughts for art critics, editors or somebody who thinks their opinion is very important.

  • and it goes on and on and on…. and on.

    Nobody here has the answers to these fathomless questions. If they did, they would be writing a damn book or teaching. Probably from the top of the mount.

    These questions will probably never be answered and if they are, certainly not to everyones agreement.

    While comment, dialogue and discourse is good, we as photographers would probably be happier and certainly more productive if we spent more time shooting and less time yapping about it. I have always admired the photographers who made the photos and then let the photos do the talking while they go out and make more photos.

    That is just my opinion, and now back to WORK.

  • pete – you made me LAUGH


  • does anyone think the white of the eye in the cover photo is pulled back a little far?


  • We should all just leave Jim and his concern trolling to himself.

  • Preston, do you really think my real position is the opposite of what I say here? (concern troll). Or is it just an ad hominem effort to discredit me?

  • While I am grateful to everyone who participated in this discussion and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments, I have mostly stayed out myself to see how the discussion will develop. In all honesty, the discussion about ethics in photography is not new or original, and while I have thought about the issue discussed here, I do not “straggle” with them as one of the discussants has so rightfully guessed.

    Let’s say that I go to Africa, photograph a child in some remote location, and become famous for this work. I simple fail to see how this exploits the child or worsens his life in any way. If I do not take the photo, the child would keep living in his God-forsaken village. If I do, he’ll still live in the same disastrous environment, but at least there will be a chance, no matter how small, that someone will see the photo and try to help.

    The argument that the photograph will be used by someone on a local level and the subject will be harmed is rather ridiculous in most cases. With all due respect to the people in all the places that I’ve visited, I have to say that they do not surf the web in search of photographic and/or journalistic work about their lives. Most have never used a computer at all.

    I think that the more we worry about producing “safe” work, the least likely we are to touch the viewer and make a difference in the lives of the subjects. I will not repeat what Preston Merchant said because he explained it beautifully already. No work is ever safe from a “wrong” interpretation, unless someone is willing to spend their entire career photographing pretty flowers and cute furry animals. The more risk we take as photographers, the more benefit we will reap for both ourselves and our subjects.

  • These questions will probably never be answered

    BUT should always be asked, if not here, to oneself.

    I know I may be the first one to bark back at at Jim for his dismissive short-hand style, but he’s explained himself further and I find his commentaries, when expanded, beneficiary to the liveliness and interest of BURN as a forum. I will take a Jim’s quote that provokes and engage over a dozen “wow, the beauty, the drama, I am speechless” comments that are routine on every damned photosite forums we’d care to name.

    One funny thing, Jim, there is nothing wrong with me going to the bookstore, the library and looking into a book for the first time on some war or crisis that happened in 2006, but in a net format, I should not be given the chance? Better put the essay on and discuss it as we just did, than nothing. BURN is not exactly a mouth-piece for exemplary PJ, just a damned inspiring “shoe-box” where pictures keep piling up.

    Gracie, I was not overly taken by the essay itself, maybe I have seen too many “Africa in crisis” picture essays/books, and this one, to join in with Longview, takes indeed a run-of-the mill vision and not very inventive, if varied, approach to it. The variations themslves have a diluting effect on me, probably 2 or 3 stronger (unforgettable) images would have been needed to make it more memorable. I think Dima has “better” work on his site, in color.

    BTW, why are “african humanitarian crisis” always in B&W, when so much of the rest (on the same photographer’s site) is in color? Enquiring minds….

  • Oh, and Jim, my brides were not really brides, I admit, but they were not prostitutes either…..


  • Herve

    I agree. It just gets tiring to read the back and forth ad nauseam.


    Well said. It seems like you have a handle on who you are and what your work is about. Go forth and make more photographs!

  • Dima, it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty. That is the very definition of exploitation. If you profited from the photo of him, it is you personally who owe something to him, not an amorphous “they” who might see and respond to it (or not). You are trying to skirt personal responsibility for your actions.

  • “BTW, why are “african humanitarian crisis” always in B&W, when so much of the rest (on the same photographer’s site) is in color?”

    I use color when I think that it is justified (the best example is the Holi festival on my website).

    Refugee camps in Uganda were mostly devoid of color, so “color” photography would not do the justice. Using B&W and high contrast key emphasizes the harsh reality of the environment. However, please note, that my work on Nigerien prostitutes (also on my site) was done in color in high contrast key, although it can also be classified as an “African crisis”.

  • Jim, I believe that everyone should do their job. If I were going to help every single person who I photographed, I’d have to drop photography altogether and become the second Mother Theresa. My work for a couple of humanitarian organizations was done pro bono. They can use my work for their purposes, and hopefully it can benefit them, so they can do their job better and help more people.

  • Nigerien prostitutes…….. can also be classified as an “African crisis”.

    With a softer reality of the environment?

    I think some of the problems eluded by Longview and JIm find their justification in your last sentence. The consumption of african imagery as a constant reduction to “crisis” (note that my own use of parenthese was to highlight this reduction). No, I dod not think that for being the result fo a possible conflict or catatrophe, the plight of being coerced or turning intto prostitution is a crisis.

  • Herve, I used quotes around the words “African crisis” for a reason…

  • Jim wrote: “it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty.”

    Jim, by that logic, every photographer you have ever heard of is an exploiter. You make the silliest arguments.

  • panos skoulidas

    Quote: “I’m more interested in a photography that is ‘unfinished’ – a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in.”

    Paolo Pellegrin

    In my panos words:
    these are a Nachtwey school straight PJ… but those photos seem to be “finished” for me…
    ( for the definition of “unfinished” from Paolo P. above..:)))))))))))))))))

  • It doesn’t follow that just because an action is widespread or of long duration that it is therefore ethical.

  • Panos, one of my favorite quotes, and photographers. I think about that much.

  • … and, energy.

  • Jim i just don’t think geometric proofs are going to work here. It’s not an exact science like pool table physics, or the legalities of if P then Q.

    This effort is for a complex organism (humanity), it’s like choosing your diet in the hopes you grow up to be healthy, it‘s too complex to perfectly predict the outcome and one can only rely on probabilistic tendencies. So again, it’s a dead-end street to apply such deterministic logic.

    That being said, people that make an effort to provide a benefit, whether they do it for free or they do it for a gazillion dollars, if it benefits even one person, then is seems to me that effort is still better than no effort at all.

  • a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in.”

    If we let Jim in on it, there are, IMO, no photos that can’t (and did not!) trigger a conversation or dialogue…. ;-))))

  • Hey! About time we all got around to my point, over and over and over again. Photos by the best ask questions. If they don’t, they better be good records. Only stupid records, no voice, no artistry.

  • Jim, you wrote:

    “Dima, it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty. That is the very definition of exploitation.”

    Good Lord Jim, do you think Dorthea Lange ever sent the “migrant mother” a few buck? (I know she didn’t because I read an interview with one of the grown children pictured who stated “we never got nothin’} . The same goes for pretty much any other classic you care to mention.

    I think you are out of line here.

    Gordon L.

  • Dima

    I’ve just re-visited this essay, and your site, all of it. All I can offer is my admiration and congrats.
    This is brilliant stuff.

    I can see that you are in love with the image and image making, one common thing those here on Burn share. Your images are simply amazing and beautiful. Your “bag of tricks” is obviously very very large. I visited the essay with a pencil and paper. I should take the list with me on my next shoot. Low angle, high angle, silhouette, symmetry, pull to edges, panorama, extreme close-up reflections, high key, low key, etc. etc. etc.

    Bobblack, help me out here, you have such beautiful insight and the means to express it.

    Anyway Dima thanks for this. It is an inspiration.

    Gordon L.

  • Dima you wrote

    “No work is ever safe from a “wrong” interpretation, unless someone is willing to spend their entire career photographing pretty flowers and cute furry animals.

    Dima even these folks are not safe, I’m afraid your comment is a bit of a judgment of them too.

    All photographic by-ways deserve respect.

    Gordon L.

  • Actually, Lange misrepresented the photograph and the family doesn’t seem very happy about that.

  • god, i have a friggin’ headache reading all of this.

    DIMA – you are a hell of a photographer. keep up the incredible work and passion.

    i would love for nachtwey to comment on all of this…

  • Yep. It would be interesting to hear Nachtwey’s take on this thread. Unlikely, but interesting.

  • i’m not sure how busy Jim is right now – but i just dropped him a note and asked him if he would comment… fingers crossed.

  • I wonder what direction Nachtwey will take, now that he is 60 years old? War photography isn’t a game for old men.

  • JIM – have you been to LOOK3 yet? Nachtwey was one of our legacy photographers last year and gave an incredibly moving talk of his work. This year is Martin Parr, Sylvia Plachey and Gilles Peress. Nachtwey will be teaching (with DAH) and having an exhibit of his TB work. Paolo Pellegin will be exhibiting as well and many others. check it out… http://www.LOOK3.org. i hope you can join us and you can tell Jim in person that he’s an “old man”…. ha ha

  • I thought war wasn’t really a game either, be it for younger or older photographers.

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