From the Archives #2

Tora Bora. December 2001

A dead Afghan soldier killed by an airstrike defending an Al Qaida mountain base in Tora Bora. December 2001.

This soldier was killed during an intense fight for a mountain pass between NATO Special Forces supported by the US Air Force and the Afghan Northern Alliance.

A small group of writers, photographers and a television journalist were living and working in the mountains near Tora Bora. Amongst them were Alain Buu, James Nachtwey, David Guttenfelder, Alex Majoli and Enrico Dagnino. James, David, Enrico and Alex were living in a nasty sweat lodge in the village, Alain and I commuted up the mountain from Jalalabad everyday with supplies of fresh fruit and tea.

We knew that NATO were hunting Osama Bin Laden in the area – but the terrain made reporting the fighting very difficult. We waited for days at a mountain pass near the village of Tora Bora photographing the Northern Alliance and listening to airstrikes and the sound of NATO small arms fire in the near distance. Al Qaida were close. When we tried to move from hill to hill we would be shot at by inaccurate sniper fire. It wasn’t too dangerous but it made us thoughtful and kept us away from the frontline never-the-less. CNN’s mercenaries, Afghans lead by a British ex-soldier added an unexpected aggravation as they spent more energy trying to prevent other journalists getting to the story than they did protecting CNN.

I can’t remember now how many days we were up there but it was at the end of a long assignation, from September 13th until mid December and time dragged, we were keen to get home. The USAF bombed the hills very hard using weapons they call Daisy Cutters, these weapons explode shrapnel over a vast area and rip apart anything in its path. Trees were severed, woodland turned into a field of charred stumps. When we emerged from the depression we were hiding in (out of range of the shrapnel) we were not shot at by the snipers, so we figured it was safe to move. About 30 minutes away we came across a small group of fighters who had been killed – I photographed them quickly but moved on to find space away from my friends. On an adjacent hill I found this man. He was lying there with his face looking to the airspace the B52 that killed him had occupied, almost as if he were resting. It took me a moment to see that he had been cut in two and reassembled but with his face up and his feet pointing down. I admired then and I admire now the friendship and courage of the men who pieced him together, covered his wounds and laid him to rest under such conditions before they fled through the mountains.

From the Archives #1

I am leaving for Rwanda in 6 days to run a workshop with Marcus Bleasdale from VII so I thought it would be appropriate to start this series of images ‘From the Archives’ by re-publishing this photograph which first appeared in Newsweek in 2004.

I was assigned to go to Rwanda by Newsweek 10 years after the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis by rival Hutus and was asked to report on the situation of the women who had been raped and their children. The woman in this photographed was raped by a gang of Hutu men,  her daughter was born 9 months later.

This photograph was taken as the correspondent and I were about to leave. I was returning from the kitchen where I had returned the glasses we were drinking from. Through the net curtain that separated the kitchen from the parlour I saw mother and child waiting by the door for us to leave. I do not have the emotional experience to know how it feels to love a child that is born from a rape, or how it feels to be a child born of violence but this scene seemed to me to reveal something of the complexity that I can only imagine.

From the Archives

I will be publishing a photograph from my archives every week (or as close to that deadline as possible)  and talking about the image. This might include talking about the people in it (if there are people in it) or the motivation or story behind the photograph,  or simply the reason why I have chosen to re-publish it.