|The Rape of a Nation, Photographs by Marcus Bleasdale. |
Published by Schilt Publishing, 2010.
Reviewed by Sara Terry
______________________________________Marcus Bleasdale The Rape of a Nation
Photographs by Marcus Bleasdale. Foreword by John Le Carré.
Schilt Publishing, 2010. Hardbound. 240 pp., 117 duotone illustrations, 6-3/4x9."
I've been a fan of Marcus Bleasdale ever since I first heard the story, years ago, of how he became a photographer. With a degree in finance and economics, he'd wound up working in London after college -- with some doubts, as I recall, about the moral code of his profession. Things came to a head the day a colleague walked into the office after some particularly horrendous conflict had hit the news and said, "I wonder how much the price of gold will go up?" as a result of the crisis. That was the breaking point for Bleasdale. He quit that day and never looked back -- going on to get a post-graduate diploma in photojournalism, and from there to years of passionate coverage of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the consequences resulting from the conflict and greed. I admire the man, and his commitment to bringing these stories to a global audience.
I have to admit to my own biases here -- as a photographer who works in color, and has worked in many post-conflict settings in Africa, I often tire of the endless portrayals, in gritty black-and-white, of the "darkness" of this amazing continent, its disasters, wars, famines and diseases. My experience has shown me far more life, far more spirit, far more determination, than what is captured in many of these earnest reportages. That said, Bleasdale's work still stands for me as a compelling, honorable -- and model -- documentation of one of the most critical human rights stories in Africa.
As sobering as the images (and their brief accompanying captions in the black margins of the pages) are, there is often a deft sensibility at work here, one that captures beauty and humanity, in the midst of dire situations. One of my favorites is the photo of the young child soldier, riding a bicycle down a dirt road, back to his base. With gun slung over his back, he struggles to control the bike - which is too big for him -- a glimpse of innocence in the most inhumane of conditions. Equally powerful is the image of the body of a dead government soldier in the road; Bleasdale frames the image so that the body is barely visible, and the background out of focus. Instead of the horror of death, he draws us to the man's forearm, which rises in the middle of the frame, fingers gently folded in a loose fist. For the briefest of moments, we are allowed to remember what it means to be human, that this could be a man contentedly stretched out on the ground, hand moving towards the sky, contemplating life -- not death.
Sara Terry A former staff correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and magazine freelance writer, Sara Terry made a mid-career transition into documentary photography in the late 1990s. Her long-term project about the aftermath of war in Bosnia -- “Aftermath: Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace” -- was published in September 2005 by Channel Photographics, and was named as one of the best photo books of the year by Photo District News. Her work has been widely exhibited, at such venues as the United Nations, the Museum of Photography in Antwerp, and the Moving Walls exhibition at the Open Society Institute. She is the founder of The Aftermath Project (www.theaftermathproject.org), a non-profit grant program which helps photographers cover the aftermath of conflict. She is currently directing and producing "Fambul Tok," a documentary about a post-conflict forgiveness and reconciliation program in Sierra Leone, which recently won a grant from the Sundance Documentary Institute. bosniaaftermath.com