Witnessing war

Witnessing war

“I experienced other people’s suffering at close quarters, immersed myself in stories and on occasion experienced great fear for my own life. Unlike many people, I was fortunate enough to leave," says Bangalore-based photographer Ryan Lobo in his artist’s statement, speaking about the experience of shooting in three war-torn countries—Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia.

Selected works of his trips to these three countries will be part of the exhibition, War and Forgiveness, opening Saturday in Bangalore. The photographs have been divided into three sections: Liberia, a war criminal’s search for redemption in the aftermath of a civil war; Afghanistan, the Taliban-backed heroin trade in that country; and Baghdad, a city under conflict, and the lives of people in wartime.

Lobo’s journey began in 2007 when he went to work on films in the three countries. He ended up taking photographs too and the images, he found, were more telling than the video documentation. He travelled to Liberia to shoot a story about a brutal warlord called “General Butt Naked". The warlord got his name from fighting stark naked and claims to have personally killed more than 10,000 people during Liberia’s civil war; he is known to have commanded child soldiers to commit acts of unthinkable brutality. The general is now a Christian evangelist named Joshua who seeks the forgiveness of the families and children he hurt.

“I learnt about the greyness of things, I could say. What I found disturbing for myself was that General Joshua is actually a likeable person, and trying to fit that experience of him with his history as a brutal mass murderer was difficult at times," says Lobo. In Afghanistan, he encountered the different sides of the drug trade and in Baghdad, met young men for whom arms were an everyday affair.

The common thread, Lobo found, was the presence of war and more importantly, the presence of forgiveness among the victims of these wars. “People who have truly suffered do not find it difficult to forgive, and this was my experience," says Lobo, adding that sharing his images from these places was important to him, although he was aware that images of war and sadness might not sell. “It is seeing the same thing, perhaps the seeds of the same thing, within ourselves, in our conversations and in the way we treat our own people," says Lobo.

War and Forgiveness will show at Sua House, 26/1, Kasturba Cross Road, Bangalore, from 26 February-11 March.