DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO. 2008. Mr. Monozande: "The war came and the rebels massacred my whole village and my family (my wife and 8 children). I was shot so many times I do not know how I survived. I often dream about armed men hunting me down or of my family being alive - But when I wake up I am alone and terrified. I want to escape to another country where I will be safe. Thank you."
© Copyright Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos
Posted by REDRESS on May 20, 2010
REDRESS spoke with Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg about his critically acclaimed exhibition at Photographer’s Gallery in London. ‘Open See’ chronicled the experiences of people who travel from war torn, socially and economically devastated countries, to make new lives in Europe.
This series laid bare the effects of trafficking, torture and its physical and psychological consequences.
REDRESS: Congratulations on the tremendous success of the recent exhibition and book release.What made you decide to take on this particular theme?
JG: I began this work in 2003 after I joined Magnum Photo Agency. I was commissioned to explore the different aspects of immigrant culture in Greece. After only a short time working I became aware of how complex a situation it was….the fact that many of the people who I was photographing were not just economic or social immigrants but also asylum seekers who were escaping repressive regimes, conflict, torture, poverty and disease, and trafficked victims. I realized that these people were not being represented or given a voice , or even acknowledged as part of the Greek society or economy , and was drawn to telling their story with them.
REDRESS: As you know, REDRESS works with torture survivors throughout the world to provide legal assistance in securing their rights to justice. Your images engage the viewer with this experience by portraying a wide variety of emotional perspectives and personal stories. Do you set out with the intent to capture a particular subject or situation or do you find that the subjects find/seek you?
JG: I usually try to start out with a “beginners mind”, where I am open to learn all and more about what I am documenting. I set out with a basic structure, and areas of interest, which usually leads me on a multi-directional treasure hunt in which a varied group of places and peoples end up guiding me in my journey. If I am lucky, in each place I visit I will have some local contacts who will then introduce me to others, and then on and on.
REDRESS: People who seek refuge from extreme human rights violations within their countries of origin often feel isolated and hesitate to raise their claims. These photos prompt the viewer to consider the prolific use of torture and engage with the human experience. Do you feel that your work provides a chance for the people you photograph to have a voice?
JG: It is a privilege to be a witness to other peoples' trials and tribulations…and a responsibility to provide a voice for those that lack the means or power to express their rights. As you know victims of torture face not only physical but psychological damages as well so telling their stories is something that often helps to lighten their load. I try to create a level of trust and sensitivity to how they want their photos used… often protecting them by covering or blurring their faces so that they are unrecognizable and so that no further harm will come to them. (former torturers and traffickers are always lurking around) My goal is for them to be able to open up and share their lives with me, and ultimately a larger audience.
REDRESS: The hand written statements on the photographs, such as the image of Mr. Monozande (one of the photos we will have on the website), reveal the subjects' innermost feelings regarding their situations. Torture has immense psychological effects and often causes survivors difficulty in forming trusting relationships and interacting with the outside world. Was it difficult to build the intimacy needed with each of them to not only photograph them but for them to share their story further with words?
JG: Mr. Monozande family was murdered by rebel soldiers, he himself was tortured, shot and hacked seemingly to death, but somehow miraculously survived. His loneliness is overwhelming. He lived in a small, leaking hut in a forgotten refugee camp. . He would have to scavenge in the official refugee camp dump ; literally eating the trash of other refugees. This was unfortunately a common occurrence for many people in his camp. Mr. Monozandes was in desperate need to share his story.
REDRESS: The story of Mr Monozande’s experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo is devastating. How aware were you of the political climate In DRC prior to your visit? Can you share with us the story behind the photograph of Mr. Monozande?
JG: His story was devastating but sadly all too common in the DRC which is the main reason that I chose to go there. For 18 years the peoples of the country have been enveloped in and the victims of the region's political problems and conflict.However its one thing to read or hear about something and another to be present and in the middle of it all.Certainly it is frightening to observe first hand the agony of others….and definitely scary to hear gunshots and explosions in the near distance.
REDRESS: You have generously donated some of your photographs to REDRESS for use on our website and you have supported various other charities throughout your career. As a photographer, how important do you feel it is to use your talent to bring about awareness of pressing issues and situations through your images?
JG: As not only an artist, but as a witness also it is my responsibility to take what I see and relate it back to my audience in hopefully engaging and Interesting ways. I donate my time to various charities for this same reason, in an effort to disseminate my work out to a greater number of people. I want my audience, in this case the REDRESS community, to become in effect witnesses as well.
REDRESS: After the success of Open See what can we expect from you in the future? / Where are you travelling to next?
JG: I am a Professor of Art at the California College of Art and as our school year just ended I will be spending the next few weeks catching up with, and perhaps even finishing misc. projects , including the re-design and re-publishing of my first monograph “Rich and Poor” . After this is completed, I plan on working on a larger monograph of the Open See project and also to experiment with ways to outreach this work to a larger audience, including the communities that I photographed in.
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