Personal Encounters with Young War Photographers

I once had a dream of being a war photographer last summer. It’s interesting because it’s November and I haven’t forgotten about it. As a matter of fact, it still sort of bothers me up to these days, since it made me wonder what it meant. Was it a metaphor of the wars in my life? or was it a literal depiction of a future career that awaits me in… war photography? It made me think of the people in the Magnum New York Master workshop I attended last March 2008 in Toronto… My fellow apprentice who are established war photographers like Dominiq Nahr of Toronto, he was only 19 yrs old, with a portfolio on his coverage of Gaza & Gyula from Budapest & his photos of the Afghan war & of course the handsome Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson’s coverage of the War in Lebanon…their photos of DEATH…. I’ll have to admit, being around them made me feel like a pathetic baby who is still crawling, while they are freely running around… as far as photo journalism is concerned. It was intimidating.

I know from conversations with them that they are able to distance themselves from the situation through the camera lense. I wonder if I am capable of that. I wonder how I’m going to deal with the trauma witnessing the gore of it all. I wonder if I’ll survive. I wonder if the experience will be lighter to deal with than the pangst of unrequited love. Every day last summer I wished I was a photo journalist covering the Congo war in Sietch Tabr, Zimbabwe. I guess that was the case because I wanted to die so badly from heartbreak. I desired it to be my escapism from heartaches, not just from romantic love, also from betrayals from those whom I leased expected it from, one of them my best friend of 10 yrs. I was so overwhelmed with life & its pains. It was one heartbreak to another. It was unbearable. I was smart enough to think that suicide was pathetic, nonetheless I wanted to die. I considered that if death came my way, I was hoping it’ll be a death with a purpose. I thought though it’s challenging, one way to fulfill this purpose is through being a war photographer. I wanted to play with the fire of fear, adrenaline rush and survival. I would like to challenge my ability to handle trauma. I would like to test my ability to such a challenge.

I remembered when I was 16 years old in the Philippines. I was suppose to be part of a conflict resolution agenda in the Mindanao region between Muslim & Christian farmers, to tame down the blood shed going on. It was offered by my school during the summer. I participated in the preparatory course at school. I hid it from my parents and I lied about it. I told them I was gona go to Mindanao, not for conflict resolution agenda, but to be immersed in living the life of a farmer for a month. At that time controversies of the conflict was prominent. Situations were solved through guns and intimidation. In spite my lies, my parents stopped me from going using superstition as an excuse & locking me in my room. At that time we were in the process of immigrating to Canada. They said it’s bad omen to travel through plane when you are in the process of making a big move. I knew subconsciously that they just stopped me because they were scared for my life. I was bitter with my parents as I was through the years that passed for stopping me/controlling me. I underwent processes to be involved in causes that meant a lot to me, but they stopped me in all possible ways. They underestimated my abilities to survive. They criticized me as being fragile/naive, too innocent & not being street smart enough. I was able to prove them wrong somehow.

Ironically, now that I live on my own, my desire to fight for a cause has worn out. It isn’t like it was in the past. What happened to my drive for adventure in being part of Katimavik? Where did my desire to fight for the lives of babies in Africa go? My yearning to win the YMCA Gandhi award, what happened to that too? Fear has coated my existence. I’m 25 and I wonder, am I healthy enough to deal with the physical, mental and emotional stresses part of causes that meant so much to me in the past? Will my body be able to tolerate malaria, dengue, typhoid, hunger & thirst? the sight of gore, blood, evil & death? I don’t know. I don’t know anymore what cause to fight for and it agitates me. I am confused and lost in the comforts of Canadian lifestyle. I feel like a lioness in a zoo cage who lies in the comfort & confines of being fed & taken cared of. All I do is sleep & linger around, observe people looking at me. It is comfortable. Part of my sub conscious wants to be in the forest. In the forest it is free though unpredictable. The forest is full of fear and one has to rely on survival instincts. Can I handle it? I do not know, unless I jump towards the circumstance if I am willing to do so. I want my drive/passion to return, but for the moment, I am existing, and my passion is nowhere to be found.

Dominiq Nahr's photo. He is my fellow apprentice under international award winning Magnum photo journalist Bruce Gilden's mentorship

Dominiq Nahr


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