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France - Visa pour l'Image

South Sudan's war, ivory poaching, LGBT in Africa on show at photo festival

Dominic Nahr at Visa sur l'Image
Dominic Nahr at Visa sur l'Image Rosslyh Hyams/RFI

The painful birth of South Sudan, ivory poached to finance war and rebellion and African gays' struggle to live despite discriminatory laws and prejudice are the subjects of three photographers' work on show at the Visa pour l'Image festival in the southern French town of Perpignan.

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For six years Dominic Nahr has been reporting on events in southern Sudan with his camera. From 2010 onwards, he has born witness to the hope surrounding the gestation and birth of the new nation of South Sudan, Africa’s 55th state.

On more recent trips, however, Nahr found himself faced with a harsh reality. The new state began to be torn apart in December 2013. Ethnic Dinka, like president Salva Kiir, and former vice-president Riek Machar’s Nuer camp began fighting.

Nahr had sensed the coming breakdown almost immediately after independence day.

“I remember seeing brand new American police motorcycles at the parade,” he remembers. “The drivers had uniforms and helmets, the whole thing, it looked really nice. The next day, I think, I saw those motorcycles being driven by non-uniformed, no-helmets guys down the street revving them as much as they could and I had a bad feeling at that point.”

His photos on show in an exhibition “A Torn State – Un Etat Déchiré” at Visa pour l’image are drawn from work commissioned by an international NGO. Their focus is how this new war affects generations of civilians, who were in the process of healing the scars of the previous civil war.

The subjects of the photos are mixed, telling individual stories as well as describing the collective narrative.

Nahr’s images show thousands of people queuing for food in an arid environment. Women wading through a river have sacks of supplies on their heads and guide some of their children while carrying the others.

“When I was there it was the first time there had been a food drop in five months. Five months of no help at all. Families need food. But how much food do you give them so that they don’t get attacked? And they will get attacked,” recounts Nahr.

The backdrop for the war-inflicted desperation, hunger, thirst, pain or death in Nahr’s pictures is a lack of infrastructure. While a poor country, the largely Christian South Sudan was not alone when it gained independence after decades of civil war in Sudan, stresses Nahr. Yet the violence returned so fast that there was no time to build the basics for the people, an estimated 2.5 million of whom have been displaced by fighting.

He said that the money that poured in at the time of independence has contributed to the collapse, and to the critical situation for masses of people.

“There’s never been any time to set up any medical help, any infrastructure for education.
Any infrastructure at all … So much money was put in but nothing went to the people. It just went to the capital, to oil-related issues, maybe a bridge.”

Ivory, war and poaching

Victims of war are not always human beings.

The Ivory War is a series of photos taken by Brent Stirton for Getty and National Geographic.

The pictures, hung in the Dominican Church, show how elephants and local people pay the price of war. Rebels finance their operations in Uganda, DRC, Sudan, Central African Republic and Rwanda with ivory tusks that, despite an international ban on the ivory trade, fetch a high price still.

Stirton’s close-up portraits are so sharply in focus they have texture and weight. One man carrying weapons and ammunition on his shoulders wading through water almost up to his neck, contrasts and strangely mirrors another standing against a leafy backdrop, a tusk on each shoulder.

African gays fight for a whole life

About 30 countries in Africa have laws which punish homosexuality, some more severely than others.

The lives of those concerned may be a daily combat, not always with guns.

Frédéric Noy sets out to show how LGBTIs manage to live their lives according to their sexual preferences in societies which are institutionally hostile to them.

“I want to stay away from stereotypes to show that these people just live ordinary lives,” he says.

His exhibition at the Couvent des Minimes is called Ekifire, the half-dead. Ekifire is a Luanda word used by Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni at a rally in 2014 in support of his country’s then new anti-gay law.

Noy explains that the ghost-image that the word conjures, aptly describes the way the majority of people in Ugandan society feel about people who are not overtly heterosexual.

Noy’s photos, most of them taken indoors, show men and women in Burundi and Uganda who are ostracised, some victims of aggression, some fighting for their basic right to exist.

Half-dead is appropriate because many of these young or youngish people are rejected by their families who would otherwise support them, he says.
 

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