Very pleased to be able to share this new Photobook about my experiences in Bosnia. All profits from the sale of the book will go to the charity Remembering Srebrenica.
21 Bosnia Revisited By DJ Norwood Book Preview
Every 30 minutes a man plunges 20 meters into the Neretva River.
Every 12 months there’s a peace march.
Every 40 years there’s a war.
(On the morning of July 16, 1995, five days after the fall of Srebrenica, Serb soldiers shot hundreds of Muslim men in a wheat field on Pilica farm. As the days wore on, piles of bodies were strewn across the field. A bulldozer moved slowly along the rows, scooping up the corpses and dumping them in the pit.)
It takes a body 2.04 seconds to hit the water.
all images ©djnorwood 2019
(5 minute read)
I had to go back.
A pledge is something to be honoured and it was gnawing at me. If I went, what could I possibly do? Did I have anything to add to this tragic story? I convinced myself that I did. A forensic angle, perhaps? I wasn’t sure. My research led me deeper into a mire of meticulously recorded detail and testimony. Yet nothing would be resolved in my own mind if I didn’t go.
I joined the annual peace march covering the same paths and tracks the victims of the genocide travelled almost 25 years ago. The terrain. The trails. The trees. Seen with my own eyes, the eyes of the victims and the eyes of thousands of others who shared their grief in a moving act of solidarity with the living and the dead.
I started in Srebrenica, a place whose name is synonymous with the genocide. It didn’t take me long to get the sense that the town was struggling with the weight of European history; a cloud that literally and metaphorically hung over the town and continued to stifle the aspirations of a new generation.
There were glimmers of light. Laughter from a ruined house near a vantage point, turned out to be a young couple in each others arms, joking and kissing.
I descended the hill and took a few more pictures for no apparent reason other than to draw out precious minutes and savour the early evening glow. When I got to the square a voice bounced around the buildings – a friend, who I’d briefly met at the local hostel, had found a spot in a third floor restaurant with a balcony and was calling down to me. I wandered up the staircase examining all the photographs on the wall as I went.
On the second floor mezzanine, I did a double take. The picture itself was unremarkable – an interior of the restaurant above. What gripped me was the face, more accurately lack of face, of one of the seated figures: a woman in thoughtful repose had been disfigured, her identity stolen by a sharp object that had scarred her into obscurity.
Back in the UK, I realised this might be a strategy I could use to start to think again about what happened in this complicated place.
I decided to take a selection of the walk images, have them printed, and start defacing the identifiable people. I did this in the same way the restaurant picture seemed to suggest – with scratches and scrapes exposing the paper fibres beneath. The tools of the pathologist seemed apt: a scalpel and long-handled scissors. I then re-photographed the prints as a forensic photographer would copy documentation for reproduction in court.
I found the process itself surprisingly emotional. It’s not something I’ve done before and I’ve always seen the image as something sacrosanct, something to be revered, not scarred. I felt like there was something ritualistic and deranged going on as I scratched away at face after face, my mind wandering back to the muddy trails and constant, often cheerful chatter. How would these people feel about what I was doing?
Below are a selection of tampered photographs and detailed shots of the forensic pathologist’s instruments.
Originals taken on the Mars Mira memorial walk, July 2019.
A forensic connection could be made here (in the sense that these pictures of pictures evidence violated objects) to the long running International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia who indited, among others, Radko Mladic for his part in the Srebrenica Genocide.
It also highlights the ongoing forensic work being carried out by the International Commission for Missing Persons in nearby Tuzla, where pathologists are still finding and identifying human body parts from mass graves 25 years after the killings.
It also bring to mind Radovan Karadzic, who radically changed his appearance to evade detection until his final arrest in Belgrade in 2008.
All images ©djnorwood 2019 unless stated.
Context: On 11th July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladic, systematically massacred 8,372 men and boys. It was the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War. The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ruled that the mass executions constituted genocide.
We visit the Potocari war graves and see for ourselves the names of the dead, carved into granite. In alphabetical order the obliteration seems even more acute. The names of the deceased are etched into recumbent flagstones as if even this, the most durable of materials, finds it hard to bare its mute tirade.
Skeletal remains retrieved from mass graves line the walls of an ordinary building on the outskirts of Tuzla. Sometimes these body fragments are found in different sites, many miles apart. How so? In some cases dug up and moved to the frontline. All the better to suggest death in the virtuous of acts of bi-partisan combat rather than the miserable, one-sided slaughter which befell so many.
Contemplating this landscape with all its secrecy and obfuscation, small details suddenly coalesce into something tangible. Concrete pipes line up as if on parade. PVC doors, confined to a lot, dream of the short journey to the nearest half-finished home. Farmers re-attach fallen vines with pliers and wire. Men and women appear like statues, immobile yet fragile, while the world spins, the sun blinds and the real becomes elusive and ephemeral once more.