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Top Pick: War photographer offers up-close look at tragedy

FOR Jan Šibík, a 39-year-old photo reporter with the Czech weekly Reflex, war photography documents human tragedy in an artistic way.
"I began to work and to travel during communism when nobody was interested in reporting on the 'unpleasant events' happening in the countries of the former socialist block. Everybody was just covering summits, meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev. My first journeys stemmed from desire to be praised, but some moments I spent with the people had a really strong emotional impact on me," he says.


Albanian refugees flee Kosovo.
photo: Ján Šibík

FOR Jan Šibík, a 39-year-old photo reporter with the Czech weekly Reflex, war photography documents human tragedy in an artistic way.

"I began to work and to travel during communism when nobody was interested in reporting on the 'unpleasant events' happening in the countries of the former socialist block. Everybody was just covering summits, meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev. My first journeys stemmed from desire to be praised, but some moments I spent with the people had a really strong emotional impact on me," he says.

"The Devil Within Us" is the name of a book and an exhibition covering 14 years of Sibík's journeys through war zones and humanitarian catastrophes. The book consists of 77 photos depicting human tragedy from 28 destinations. Abandoned and starving children, wounded people, ruins, homelessness and famine are all covered, as are revolutions all around the former Soviet block. And then there's tragedy in the former Yugoslavia, Moldova, Chechnya, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

The name for the book and show was inspired by one of the photographer's journeys to the war zone in the former Yugoslavia. "War was spreading like a drug from Croatia to Bosnia and Kosovo. I saw Serbian guys dating Croatian women, and then suddenly taking guns and starting the war. That was something I wasn't able to understand. It's the devil within us."

While the exhibition and the book have a joint theme, the pictures are not presented chronologically. "Every photo is an expression of itself, and that's why we can't separate photos from Rwanda and Kosovo. It's not just a piece of information."

Massacres in Sierra Leone bring forward Šibík's worst memories. "The bloodshed happened because of diamonds. Arms and legs were cut off with machetes, people were burned and tortured - and then you have crippled children playing and smiling as if nothing had happened. They used to cut children's arms open and fill them with cocaine to turn them into beasts ready to do the same to others."

The circles of war and tragedy, however, never close. "I would like to go back to Afghanistan. I don't plan my trips, it's enough to turn the TV on. Everything else comes spontaneously."
"The Devil Within Us", open daily until March 3. Admission free, Kultúrne centrum, Holubyho 42, Pezinok. Tel: 033/6413-949.
More about the author on www.sibik.cz

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