In Tandem Theatre Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin recently featured a gallery of my work related to violent conflicts and war, in association with their production of the play Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies.
I was unfortunately unable to attend the gallery show (the photos above were taken by my daughter Nabra, who works in Milwaukee), but in addition to contributing the photos and the interviews, I also provided the following artist statement concerning the gallery:
What impressed me about Time Stands Still is that it almost reads like an evening out with colleagues in Baghdad, or on the roof of the journalist hotel in Mogadishu, or back home at an apartment party in Cairo or Beirut.
I’m a wire service photographer, which means I supply media outlet subscribers with pictures from around the world on all sorts of topics. One day I might be covering a summit of world leaders . . . the next day a soccer match, or a Hollywood premiere, or riots, or a terrorist attack, or the Consumer Electronics Show, or a political campaign stop. It all depends on what is in the news that day.
In the Middle East, the stories dealt mainly with politics and what we call breaking news. Something happens somewhere and we move on it.
Until 2006, I often covered tragic stories such as wars, famines, and revolutions. I’m not a war addict as many photojournalists are, and which is the case with Sarah Goodwin in Time Stands Still. There is an appeal to the adrenaline rush of being in combat, of risking one’s life to get close to the action and the very strange scenes we encounter in such situations.
Except for my early Beirut days, I have always proceeded cautiously when covering conflicts. There have been close calls because, no matter how careful you are, things develop around you. In Lebanon, a TV cameraman friend of mine was shot through the neck next to me. He survived. Militia friends have been killed and so have friends and colleagues in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. While managing the Middle East for EPA, we lost a photographer in Iraq (Karam Hussein – 2004).
After his death, I started to have second thoughts about covering war. I now had a family, and photographers and journalists had increasingly become targets of opportunity for kidnappings and killings.
However, when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, I decided to go and cover the story. I had started my career in Lebanon and after 25 years of being a news photographer, I felt I needed to go . . . to find out if there was some sort of message that would give me some insight to my career. I arrived two days before the end of hostilities. A ceasefire had been agreed upon and the Israelis took the opportunity to carry out wholesale bombings of the country, including the Hizbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut.
The sounds of explosions reverberating through the streets of Beirut . . . the destruction of villages, the horrible smell of death, sounds of grief, the painfully maimed civilians in hospitals, and the sorrow of funeral after funeral were all the same as so many years before. As I photographed the aftermath of this invasion, the only difference was that now I was shooting in color and not black and white. It was a tragic repeat. It accomplished nothing except to destroy a country and kill over 1,000 predominately civilian casualties.
It did succeed to radicalize people’s hatred towards each other and make them more violent and desperate.