25 February 2013

olivier voisin

The french photographer Olivier Voisin died in Syria after sustaining head injuries from flying shrapnel. This was his last letter (translated from French to English) to a friend the day before this tragedy.  Kind of puts your life in perspective...

His stunning photos can be seen here; http://oliviervoisin.fr

Syria, February 20, 2013
I've finally got in! After the Turkish authorities had denied my passage across the border, I had to get in illegally, once again. So, not far from the border, I paid three soldiers and I crossed the "no man's land," a mined territory. Here I was alone, forced to cross the river bed for about two kilometers while hiding from the watchtowers. Damn it, I was scared to get caught or to go the wrong way. Then suddenly, I saw my Syrian friend waiting for me. I felt I was saved. My backpack and especially my cameras felt like 10,000 kilos on my shoulders.
The guys from the combat division were waiting for us in a car to take us in a two-hour road trip to northern Hama. When we got there, they turned off the headlights to avoid being seen. I received a very warm welcome and the guys were mostly impressed by my crossing the river by myself.
I've heard the first artillery fires in the distance. They say that the loyalist troops occupied the region that's about 25 km north of Hama and that the front line is basically between the Alawites and the Sunnis. So, Assad's troops continue the blind fire while keeping their position as the dominant force. Luckily, the weather is so bad that the air attacks have stopped.
Life conditions here are worse than precarious. It's kind of tough. The good news is that I'm going to lose some weight, but when I come back, I'll need to take 10 showers to become presentable again!
Today I've met some families from Hama who lost their homes. Now they're living underground or in caves. They've lost everything. All of a sudden, my perspective of the division's bad living conditions has changed.
I've taken the pictures but I'm not even certain that the AFP will accept them.
The nights are cold. Luckily, I have the women's tights I bought in Turkey, which makes it bearable for me.
The artillery fires almost every 20 minutes and the ground often trembles.
The problem is that I think that these are blind fires and their cannons are strong enough to cover about 20 kilometers.
There aren't many direct combats. The guys would need about $20 U.S. worth of munitions for two-four hour battles. Therefore, their battles are shorter. During the day, nothing happens. I even wonder how they expect to win this war. This only confirms my fears that this war will last a long time. So, the big boss comes from time to time to make it even worse: he brings a sheep for lunch and the guys have to go in the nearby forest and cut wood. He also brings cartons of cigarettes and in the evening he makes everybody pray! Some of them are very young. They've already lost about 20 of their companions and others are wounded but still alive. I'm mostly touched my Abou Ziad who has lost an eye and builds homemade rockets to be launched during the battles. He is brave and courageous. He's always the first one to do everything, to help, to cut wood, or to give cigarettes. I've tried to talk to him using my poor Arab speaking skills. Evidently, discussions have turned to religion, but they don't consider themselves as Salafis. Let's be honest, if it were the case, I wouldn't still be alive. I enjoy his presence. When the others ask me all kinds of stuff -- noticing all the equipment I have -- he always backs me up and "argues" with them, telling them to leave me alone!
Compared to Aleppo, last summer, I have the feeling that this battle is less intense. Aleppo's battle was a tough one, although some of the old companions say that it was nothing compared to that in Chechnya. Probably, because I was closer to the battle field and there were daily battles. As I said, here it costs too much, so, they fight from time to time. We are also far from Libya where they have munitions at will. And, there they have more countryside battles, which is different from the urban warfare.
Last week, they declared Aleppo the second worst destroyed city since Stalingrad, during the World War II.
The commander asks me when France intends to send military aid. I have no idea! I am ashamed because it has been two years and we still have no idea. He says that nobody helps them and he doesn't understand why the West is afraid to intervene. I don't feel like answering. We're afraid of the extremists who find followers amongst people lacking education and considering the Koran as the only book to read... what can we do? And then again, I'm not a politician or a man of power. I do what the AFP wants. The less I do the less I earn, and I already don't earn much. The days go by and I'm more and more behind with the number of photos they want me to take.
It's true that I'm addicted to this damn camera. There are no other drugs as powerful as the adrenaline we get from this incredible feeling of wanting to be alive. This evening will mark three days since I've been here. And as usual, I'm an idiot and I always forget to bring a book with me, so, I don't have anything to do tonight. It would take about 2 hours to process my photos, and since there's no Internet and the conversation is limited, I feel like an idiot.
Most of the guys are nice to me and try to make my stay with them as pleasant as possible. They've asked me 1000 questions about Paris and France and they still don't understand how I can be French. I've told them that my father is French and my mother Korean. It's not the first time that this has happened to me! In all developing countries, I've always been taken for a "Chinese," although saying to be Korean is much better perceived. They always seem to wonder how it was possible for us to live there, and especially before the war. I always have a hard time when they ask me to show them photos from Paris because the differences are striking. Like an old friend of mine used to say, after one of his trips to the Eastern countries, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Lithuanians had a hard time understanding that even in France there were poor men dying of cold in winter.
Not showing them these photos (I don't even have them on my laptop!) allows me to live in the present moment and not go back to the past or move forward to the future.
It would have helped to have a drink! If God is nice, He should make sure that the next war doesn't take place in an Arab or Muslim country! At least, I'd be free to talk about women... The guys have asked me if I had any porn pictures, too. This is funny and sad at the same time, because they won't have more of such pictures after the war either, thanks to these stupid religious moralists.
Violence is intense. Hatred is even stronger. How can people feel so much hatred or such a strong desire to kill? I've seen videos with the inhabitants of Homs being beaten up by the loyalist soldiers. I've never seen such violence and so much blood everywhere, and men crying like children... and they kept on kicking them, or hitting them with sticks until they bled. Nevertheless, this shitty world, I've seen it before. If this violence is confirmed one day by witnesses, they will all face justice in an international court. We, the people from the West, we believe and we are educated to believe in the order of law, according to which people can be judged by people. But how can we do this with people who only believe in the divine justice? Afterwards, it will all end up in violence, if there is an ''afterwards." In the Christian culture, the idea of reconciliation is important. I repeat myself, but I was very young when I discovered this idea of reconciliation in the Christian countries, such countries like Poland or Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Berlin wall, that have suffered from the communist persecution. But my comparison ends here. Brother Roger talked about this in "Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth," a theory that had a great impact on me and my friends, and I still believe in it.
More than ever, it's the parachutists' prayer that comes to my mind in every moment of doubt: "Dear God, please, give me what the others refuse, give me the fight and the storm, I ask for it tonight because tomorrow I will lack the courage."


ibb said...

Thank to him pictures come to us...unfortunately the price was too high, and unfortunately we are too blind.

Mlle Paradis said...

terribly terribly terribly tragic all of it. thanks for posting the letter. very poignant and very eloquent. we are not seeing these images in america or hearing these descriptions. and in america the religious extremists (or those who use them) want to take us in this direction without even understanding or valuing what is the very best about the western Christian tradition: of "reconciliation".

Tiphaine said...

I am devastated by this loss......I didn't know him.....If only his testimony could help things change...let's hope.

KathyA said...

How sad, but how wonderful that he loved what he did so much.

Mar said...

Thanks a lot for postig this letter.
I don`t have words to exprese how i feel...terrible


I knew a girl who was blue. So she painted her world pink. xoxo