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Photojournalism prize-winner Elias portraits foreign legion in Central African Republic

Soldiers sheltering behind sandbags while waiting for their commander. Bambari, Central African Republic, French outpost, August 16, 2014. Edouard Elias, winner of the Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award 2015.
Soldiers sheltering behind sandbags while waiting for their commander. Bambari, Central African Republic, French outpost, August 16, 2014. Edouard Elias, winner of the Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award 2015. © Edouard Elias / Getty Images Reportage.

For 26 years Visa Pour L’Image (A Visa for Images) - in Perpignan, south-west France has been giving a platform to photo-reporters from all over the world and to their work. In September an international photo-journalism centre is set to open in the city, which is one of the Visa’s sponsors. A number of prizes are awarded each year for outstanding photographic work telling the toughest stories of what is happening in the world in images.

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The subjects of the exhibitions and evening slide-shows at the international meet are as wide-ranging as the news all around the world, from Somalia to Sierra Leone, from India to Chernobyl, from Nicaragua to the US.

Some subjects do recur, not least stories about the refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. One repeat situation is what’s been happening in Central African Republic during and after the sectarian violence that erupted two years ago.

Notable works are by American Marcus Bleasdale, who comes dramatically close to the action capturing emotions and the names of the people in each take, and Frenchman Edouard Elias.

Merely 24, Elias has been around. He has worked in Syria, where he was taken hostage by radical Islamists. He has worked in Asia and in Africa and in Latin America.

In the works on show in Perpignan he chose to focus on French foreign legion soldiers going about their daily peace-keeping duty and personal business in Central African Republic - to look at the situation from a different perspective, he says.

Elias’ penchant for art and talent in handling light and colour and structure lend an aesthetic quality to the photos of the soldiers. At the same time, his use of wide-angle lenses that bring in skies and landscape as well as the man-made environment, creates a distance which allows room to see the legionnaires in a different, less military, more human way.

For his series of photos, Elias is receiving the City of Perpignan-Rémy Ochlik award.

While content with his photos, Elias feels the award is bitter-sweet.

“I’m proud to receive this prize but as it’s named after the young French photographer Rémy Ochlik [who was killed in Syria in 2012], it’s also a reminder of his sacrifice," he comments. "We all, in doing this work, are sacrificing something. It’s not like winning a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. So I can’t be really happy about it. Of course, it will help me with my next project. “

Elias is working on the second part of his French Foreign Legion series here in France.

Very many photographers like Elias have been globe-trotting with their cameras and braving frontlines and disasters almost since they could walk.

With the new international centre for photojournalism expected later this month, they will have a more permanent place to meet the extended professional family. For Visa pour L’Image director Jean-François Leroy, if the professional family is all they have, then the centre will be the guardian of their work.

 

 

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