Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre and Frederic Lemercier

Didier Lefevre was a French photographer who was assigned to cover a Medecins Sans Frontieres mission in Afghanistan for three months in 1986. He and a small group of doctors and nurses illegally crossed the border from Pakistan and spent a gruelling month walking over several mountain passes to get to a rudimentary hospital. Walking in daylight risked being spotted and shot at by Russian pilots. Stepping off the narrow footpath risked getting blown up by a land mind. Once arrived at their destination, they treated victims of the war between the Russians and the Afghan Mujahideen as well as anyone else needing medical attention.

When the summer draws to a close, Robert, a doctor, and Evelyne, a nurse, will stay behind in the village over winter and wait for another MSF mission to arrive the next year. Didier asks Robert how he feels about staying on, and Robert describes the hardships of a previous mission, including wolves that prevented people from going outside at night and a lack of food that reduced their diet to a few tree leaves boiled like spinach. He said the people were the reason he came back.

"I'll tell you a story to give you an idea of the generosity of these people. Every day, they'd bring us bread. As time went on, that bread became more and more disgusting. By the end, there was more soil than bread in it! One day we told the baker, pretty tactlessly, that we didn't want any more, that we were going to throw it out. He looked at us a bit sheepishly and asked us not to throw it out but to give it back to him. That afternoon we found out that, for the previous month, nobody in the area had been eating bread. All the families had scraped the bottom of their wheat stores so that Sylvie and I could continue to have some. So naturally, once you've lived through something like that, you come back and you do it again."

Guibert's colour illustrations are combined with Lefevre's words about his experiences and a selection of photos from the 139 rolls of black & white film taken during the trip. The result is a very powerful book about humanitarian aid in wartime. Have kleenex ready.

No comments: