Aftermath, Behind the scenes, Forensic Photography, Photojournalism, Stories

21

Potocari War Graves, Srebrenica, March 2019

5 minute read.

Having been surrounded by death in my working life, I found myself habitually immune to the historic tragedy of the Srebrenica Genocide. I was about to embark on a memorial walk with thousands of others, towards the place where this tragedy happened, but realised that all those years had made me emotionally detached, immune to the feelings that loss and tragedy had on the ‘other’.

It was a strange experience, then, to be so far removed from this place of trauma – sat one rainy winter evening, scratching away at the surface of a print – to find a deep sense of sorrow welling up from somewhere unfamiliar. I was using scissors and a scalpel working methodically over each identifiable face, re-creating the image I’d seen in a hotel stairwell in Srebrenica itself.

Day 1, Mars Mira, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, (defaced Dec 2019)

The woman was disfigured for reasons unknown, by a sharp implement. Present yet partially erased, like a distorted memory. Now I was thinking about these individuals in the context of victimhood, and placed myself in the skin of the protagonist, in control of their image if not their lives. By obfuscating reality, I was somehow re-energising that sense of loss felt by so many of those who had taken part, and started to feel the effects of that onerous process.

I re-photographed the prints as objectively as possible: square on, copy lighting at 45 degrees, just like the many documents I’d photographed for court purposes, but which were almost always equally suited to a humble photocopy. A few months went by before I looked at what I had again. I felt I needed the images of some of the deceased to make this personal and specific. The web is a wonderful tool for preserving memories, and a search quickly found a site devoted specifically to the systematic cataloguing of victims together with their names and dates of birth.

Zijad Ahmetovic 02.10.74

Here, perhaps, was a way to connect past and present – with portraits that were badly reproduced, poorly lit or in some way deficient. Their lack of detail seemed to be an error of quantity as well as quality. Undeniably, if they’d lived longer, these blurry images would have morphed into pixels with more detail. There would have been no shortage of choice had this atrocity happened in the Facebook age.

At the heart of this is an emotional response to the degraded quality of these family snapshots together with the violence of the event and my appropriation of violence in realising this project. The 12 victims were born in the same year as me, 1974, and meant that they all died when they were 21 – a significant and symbolic year in anyone’s life.

From the top of the Stari Most, Mostar, July 2019

To be clear, this to be about me. My intention in this post is to add a context to my interest in the subject. My goal is to throw a little more light on a region so close to home but so vulnerable to extremist ideology and still harbouring significant sections of society in denial about this murky chapter in its not too distant past.

A copy of the work in book form can be seen here:

https://www.blurb.co.uk/books/10176238-21

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Landscape, poetry

Yew

Yew Trees

Taxus Baccata

Silhouettes ruling over their kin – Voluminous shadows breaking through the mist, Like abandoned ships cruising a woody sea. In isolation, defining their orbit – Interstellar black holes, consuming light, From a bleached-out sky.

Near immortality lends to the exit door of a church, A spirit more real than any Christian myth. The chapel is orientated around it, Deferring to a power and status as witness, To the folly of civilizations over five millennia.

The connection with eternal life doesn’t end there – Twisted, contorted boughs suggest internal pain, Imprint memento mori of undead beings – Hallucinations of Hydra, Gorgon and Frankenstein, Course through sticky sap like blood, Reddening the bark in winter.

For hundreds of years these knotted fibres defended this Isle, Bending over archers’ backs, straining against sinew, As volley after volley were released at the enemy, Whomever they were, whatever century, For these conflicts are like the gentle breath of summer, Through poisoned, pointed needles.

 Images and text © DJNorwood (in isolation) May 2020

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Aftermath, Forensic Photography, Photojournalism, Stories

A Timeline and a Leap (Bosnia Pt.3)

‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hands? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.’ – Macbeth, II, ii

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.

 

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(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.)

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It takes a body 2.04 seconds to hit the water.

all images ©djnorwood 2019

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Aftermath, Behind the scenes, Forensic Photography, Photojournalism, Stories

Mak Muranovic (Bosnia pt.2)

‘With a lack of education, democracy, freedom, can be easily abused.’

Mak Muranovic-
Mak photographed outside ‘Art Tours Sarajevo’ HQ, July 2019 ©djnorwood

Topics mentioned include:

  • Tito
  • PTSD
  • Democracy/Authoritarianism
  • The Siege of Sarajevo
  • ‘The land of honey and blood’
  • ‘The tunnel of hope’
  • Living conditions during the siege
  • Dobrinja district
  • ‘The Spirit of Sarajevo’
  • Populism and politics
  • Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic
  • The intervention of the EU
  • War crimes
  • Refugees
  • Geopolitics
  • Media sensationalism/regulation

Thanks to Mak for his lucid and provocative thoughts on the past, present and future of his country.

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Aftermath, Behind the scenes, Forensic Photography, Photojournalism, Stories

Defaced (Bosnia revisited)

(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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©Reuters

 

All images ©djnorwood 2019 unless stated.

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Aftermath, Forensic Photography, Landscape, Photojournalism

Remembering Srebrenica

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.

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Environment, Landscape

Change

I’ve been returning (when I can) to a practically invisible agricultural feature in the landscape. ‘Pits (dis)’ are extraordinary in their prominence on local OS maps – I’ve noted, astonishingly,  ten of these things in one square mile close to home. They are evidence of the excavation of chalk used to apply as fetilizer to fields and as an acidity regulator before modern farming practices made this process redundant. Quite often they feature as strange wooded outcrops in the middle of ploughed fields, especially noticable in winter.

I decided to return to this particular one (OS ref: 465 528) repeatedly over a period of two years documenting seasonal and climatic change from one viewpoint.

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Environment, Landscape

Winterbourne

 

 

This post comes part-way through a long term project broadly related to fields – places which reflect our connection with the countryside and industrial food production.

Fields have a pschological hold on us collectively and individually in relation to national identity and our own personal experiences of nature. In truth, fields are a representation of nature and the countryside – a symbolic shorthand with which we have become habituated and a pseudo-space outside the control of the home. Fields provide a false premise of what nature should look like and images mask the true significance of these zones of industrialisation. Fields are as artificial as any comparable industrialised space, and the lack of visible biodiversity is only one aspect of that function. Indeed, few places, in my experience, exhibit such an astonishing lack of plant and animal multi-culture as a modern field.

Above are 12 views taken from the same position along the river Winterbourne in Wiltshire, UK, which periodically rises and retreats according to the underlying water table.

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Book reviews, Environment, Inspiration, Landscape, Photography and current affaires, Project reviews

Tribal Meditations

Simon Roberts’ atomised survey of Brexit Britain’s divided soul. A short review.

Merrie Albion, the new monograph by the photographer Simon Roberts is a timely publication delving into the social landscape of England. The work has been ten years in the making and was conceived, as much as these things can be, before the uncertainty of Brexit could taint the sea air or sour the national psyche. The pictures reveal a society of tribes, each imbued with their own laws (lores), engaging in the complex, hierarchical and habitual activities comprising our western society; rooted in a landscape rich in history, meaning and metaphor.

Merrie Albion

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Shoreham Air Show, West Sussex, 15 September 2007

Gatherings of people in grand and intimate scale could signify that contrary to popular sociological discourse, we are all ‘somewhere’ people despite issues of class, religion and social status. This ‘somewhere’ may not be a home in the domestic sense, but it is a shared space of social interaction, where the emphasis is on a communal sense of values and attitudes. Equally, the pictures allude to the hidden rifts between people of different class, social status and socio-economic background. In both senses, we are English when we look, sound and feel the same as our neighbour, whether they be daubed in face paint in anticipation of a Kiss concert, or donning Captain Beeny t-shirts in support of a comical parliamentary candidate.

Merrie Albion

Download Festival, Donington Park, Castle Donington, Leicestershire, 13 June 2008

The pictures appeal for their detail and scope. Each element is carefully stage-managed in an act of patient observation. We see ourselves in the reflected gaze of the curious professor, peering down over half-moon spectacles, smiling wryly. The stillness of the images and their resolution reward a forensic gaze. If this is a mirror held up to us, it is gilded and gaudy, depleted of sophistication, worn and artfully stressed.

More classic British wit is on show: the absurdity of a dunking in Dickensian costume; men and women in white coats at a county show (are coming to take me away, ha ha!), the authoritarian demarcation of the end of a tourist beach; a cat (belonging to a malevolent psychopath, perhaps?) sits innocently on a wall outside a weapons factory; ‘A warm welcome’ emblazoned against a fire damaged building, provides a lurid, ironic twist. This is a country suitably sanguine about its ability to cope with political fallout and economic turmoil. The pictures seem to solidify a sense of British resolve to face up to the least worst options available.

Merrie Albion

Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Isle of Thanet, 19 June 2008

As David Matless, one of the astute writers, academics and commentators included in the book says in apt English understatement, ‘There is much variety in Merrie Albion.’ It is this remarkable breadth that would habitually dilute a voice within a project, leading to unproductive cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Yet Roberts has elegantly navigated any danger of disconnect by being clear about his socio-geographic objectives and by opening the work up to collaboration from voices across the cultural spectrum and political sphere.

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Beachy Head, Seven Sisters Country Park, East Sussex, 14 March 2017

He pictures his fellow country folk in circumstances of apparent free-will, when quiet passions, pastimes and affiliations float to the surface as if in subconscious reverie. But we need direction to navigate this complex terrain and it is the narration, both in the form of extended captions and other voices, which prove to be illuminating guides on this complicated but rewarding ten-year journey around the isle.

Author’s note: this review was written from a pdf kindly supplied by the publisher, Dewi Lewis. The book is available to buy online here.

All images ©Simon Roberts

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Environment, Landscape, Stories

Fiction and the Field

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A boy lies in a field in the sun, wondering how he got there.

The journey itself was unremarkable. He’d wanted to accompany his Dad on one of his quests for ‘buried treasure’ since the day he opened the shed door and a large thin, heavy object crashed behind it.

‘No harm done, son,’ said Dad, plugging in the headphones and twiddling the on dial until a faint but unmistakable whine could be heard through the nearest headphone.

J had dreamed many times of being Indiana Jones. Indiana James! Ha! He imagined being pursued by spear wielding tribesmen and having to use quick-wit and guile to stay alive. He knew it was an arcane, outmoded illusion (although he didn’t use those words, exactly). It was ‘uncool’ because his Dad started him on those 1980’s adventure movies. He also couldn’t help but love everything about them and had a Harrison Ford poster stuck with old blue-tack on the back of his bedroom door. It was a gift from Dad.

The skate park was where he normally hung out with Ed, his buddy and wingman on the hard, grey slopes just behind the local secondary school. J and Ed were in a race to master grinds after they both nailed ollies, kickflips and heelflips. Ed had broken his wrist on his first attempt and had spent the previous couple of weeks sulking on a bench, but at least that’s where Amy hung out. There was always an upside.

Boy

The last time J was face down in the dirt wasn’t on his board. He’d launched himself and his ancient hardtail mountain bike at full speed down Greenacre Hill, over some hastily harvested planks and attempted to glide gracefully over Roo, H and Charlie, clipping Charlie on the way down with his front wheel, swearing and feeling the warm tingle of blood as it leaked from his sweaty brow. The ground was equally as hard then as now. He’d have more of an audience today, if he had his bike and could be bothered to build a ramp, but he wondered whether even a light aircraft overshooting the nearby aerodrome would elicit much of a response from the field of foragers whose senses were entombed by the elemental tone of copper and bronze humming through their heads.

The loose change in J’s jeans pocket jabbed into his groin. He commando crawled along to the next clump of dried wheat stems, wondering why he’d seen so few insects lying as he had been for half a day, with his chin nuzzled into the chaff.

At least it wasn’t pissing down with rain.

A version of this image features in the latest edition of Landscape Photographer of the Year.

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