Archive for April, 2009
Moments and missives from our world
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Richard Phillips’ rescue off the coast of Somalia was the first bit of good news from that tragic and doomed land in ages. A third of the Alabama’s cargo was food, destined to aid people in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.
I’ve got a personal connection to the place, having spent about a month there in 1992, photographing the famine and civil war. Memories of the people and place still hold firm. The month I spent in Somalia whacked my senses. I could not comprehend how warring sides could be so inhumane. Food, and access to it, was being used as an instrument of war. Non-Governmental Organizations were creating feeding centers across the south of the country, but convoys would be attacked and the payloads looted.
The stability and security of the place was so bad that every Western face needed to travel with a security team. In December, 1992, the US led an international force to restore a protective umbrella for humanitarian operations. The mission to distribute food was an initial success, with famine declining, but the fractured nation devolved once again into chaos.
Black Hawk Down dramatizes a battle in Mogadishu which killed 18 American soldiers in October 1993. Within five months, American Forces left Somalia. My reasons for working in Somalia were simple. I believed then, as I do now, that photographs can have an impact. My goal was to get the images published to show what was happening. I self-funded the trip there, taking money I had made from working in South Africa to tell the story about this tragic land and its people.
When outgoing President George HW Bush announced that he was sending troops to the Horn, he stated that images of the suffering compelled him to act. In a sense, some good had come from the combined efforts of the journalists who told the story of the Somali people.
Baidoa was the epicenter of the famine, and each morning, a lorry would go about the town, collecting the remains of those who had perished in the evening. The bodies were brought to a plot of land on the edge of the town, where graves had been freshly dug. Omar, my guide and translator, informed us that the patch of land had once been flat. Now, there were small hills of displaced earth, each covering a victim of the famine.
There’s something about that crazed, wild, insane, hosed, beautiful, screwed madhouse that will not let go of my attention, nor do I ever expect it to. It’s been 15 years since my last trip to Mogadishu, but I can still sense the clean, piercing light of that equatorial land. The world’s attention will again shift away from the Horn soon, and the people who struggle each day with existing in Somalia will likely receive smaller amounts of outside aid, due to the difficulties of safe distribution. Which will then begin the terrible cycle again.
The Sea Pines Resort recently asked me to create a gallery of celebrations throughout their resort. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Diane, Jill, Jeff, Happy and the rest of the team on many occasions, and the slideshow has just gone live. You may view