Conflict photographers take us right into the middle of battles, tragedy, and horror — evoking visceral responses to outrageous scenes of inhumanity, and bearing witness to some of the most terrible events and activities happening right now in places all around the world.

The best and most courageous conflict photographers capture a sense of urgency, movement, chaos and desperation that make us feel as if we are there, too, experiencing the brutality, fear, adrenaline and raw emotions of war, terrorism and complete upheaval of civil society.

What compels these men and women to risk their own lives to go to these scenes of conflict to make pictures? Why would they leave the safety of their own homes and families to put themselves in harm’s way to make pictures and tell the stories of these atrocities?

There have been several excellent books and movies on this subject, but an important new book published in 2015 deserves attention. Eddy van Wessel’s The Edge of Civilization is a seductive book — bringing us right into the heart of darkness in places like Chechnya, Bosnia, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria — with series of shocking and numbing photos interspersed with diary-like short texts by the photographer, who brings his already cinematic black-and-white images into even more powerful emotional levels of incredulity at how humans behave so badly in troubled times.

In just one example, he describes how he happened to be very very close to a suicide bomber at the moment when the bomber detonated his vest, wreaking death and destruction all around him, but leaving the photographer virtually unharmed — he describes how he started photographing frantically, but with a cool eye for composition and detail. He didn’t think of running to safety for himself.

In the book, the photos are not presented in chronological order, and the photographer makes use of many different formats, including wide panoramic images shot on grainy film — so the book has the feeling of a fever dream — chaotic, jumbled, nightmarish images one after the other.

Granted, these images are not for the faint at heart — they hit you hard in the gut, page after page. But they do force you to see what is beyond the edge of civilization, and they make the reader contemplate and ponder man’s inhumanity to man, as well as the need of the media and concerned people around the world to consume these images, trying to comprehend what the hell is going on, and why.

Highly recommended.

— Jim Casper

The Edge Of Civilization
by Eddy Van Wessel
Mark Mcdonald Wendelmoet Boersema
Paperback: 196 pages