Contemporary conflicts are generally classified as “new wars,” a term that indicates how much warfare has changed in recent history. In new wars, non-state actors intimidate civilians through mass killings, brutal and coercive acts, and destabilization strategies. The classical rules of warfare in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—which grant civilian noncombatants immunity from violence—are continually being challenged in contemporary conflicts as the distinction between civilian and military has virtually disappeared.
As photographers, we tend to visit conflict and disaster zones for a short time, hoping our photographs can expose others to the victims of injustice or unnecessary violence. Without our coverage, these people would probably be unknown or soon forgotten. However, who—or what—are victims, and what do we know about them?
Questions relating to the concept and identity of victims are highly problematic, because our attitudes towards victims (and how they should be dealt with photographically) are likely to be shaped by the brief assumptions we make about them during our short encounters with them, and these suppositions are not always well founded. Moreover, viewers of such imagery do not always know the history hidden behind the shots or the circumstances. Viewers just see the photographer’s visual concept.
The aim of this series is to raise questions regarding the identity of the victims I met and let the viewer answer these questions on their own. Some of the images are outtakes from commissioned assignments in troubled areas across several countries.
If you’re interested in seeing more work on this subject, we’d recommend these previous features: Emergency to Normalcy, a series on the aftermath of the disastrous nuclear power plant explosion in Japan; Citizens of War, documentation of the normal people living on the front lines in Ukraine; and Saints, Panos Kefalos’s project on the homeless refugees living in Athens.