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Witness to History 

click to enlarge From Ron Haviv’s “The Children of Darfur”: A 12-year-old girl (in striped scarf) explains how she was separated from her two friends and raped by soldiers from the Sudanese Army.
  • From Ron Haviv’s “The Children of Darfur”: A 12-year-old girl (in striped scarf) explains how she was separated from her two friends and raped by soldiers from the Sudanese Army.

Ron Haviv was 27 when he traveled to Yugoslavia in the early spring of 1992. A month later, open warfare began in Sarajevo on April 6. Haviv’s photo of a Serb militiaman kicking a dying Muslim woman in the head—published a week before the fighting started—became one of the most enduring images of the Balkan conflict. The photo is also emblematic of Haviv’s commitment to document humanitarian crises through an artist’s eye in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Haviv, whose work has appeared in Time, Vanity Fair, Fortune, and the New York Times Magazine, among other international publications, has covered conflict and crisis in Latin America, Haiti, Russia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most recently, in Darfur. “The Children of Darfur,” an exhibition of 36 of Haviv’s photographs of the daily life of children in the troubled region of Sudan where nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced in recent years, was shot in the region’s overcrowded refugee camps in the summer of 2006. The show will also include a multimedia presentation combining Haviv’s searing images with video, voiceover narration, and the voices of Darfurian children.

“The Children of Darfur” will be shown at Fovea Exhibitions, 143 Main Street, Beacon, from September 8 through September 30. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 8 from 4 to 8pm.

—Brian K. Mahoney

What was your impetus for moving from straight photography to including multimedia presentations in your exhibitions?

My main goal is to try to communicate with as many people as possible. I’ve noticed over the years that in spaces where I would have a book, an exhibition on the wall, and a multimedia projection, people responded to each differently. If you had a hundred people that came in to a gallery, one third of the people would say, “We really love the exhibition,” or one third of the people would say, “We really love the book,” or one third of the people would say, “We really like multimedia.” People really react to different types of documentation differently, so in order to try to be able to reach 100 percent of the people, I’m trying to increase my platforms. Basically, to have all my projects be multiplatform.

Why risk your life to bring back images from conflict zones?

It’s not a simple answer. I think that there are a number of factors that go into my decision each time to return to these places. The first reason is strictly a desire to create awareness, to be the eyes of the public and let people know what’s going on. Quite often, especially in this fragmented world of media, it’s very difficult for people to hear what’s going on in places such as Darfur or the Congo. So there’s an attempt to inform people and thereby put public pressure on places where our government can step in to do something. And another thing that I’ve learned over the years is the effect of the photography in the long run, even if nothing actually does happen in the immediate present. Taking Darfur as an example again, we basically watched a genocide live on television and read about it in magazines. But my work contributes to creating a body of evidence, a document, that will hold people responsible for what happened. And not only hold the people responsible on the ground—the Janjaweed, the militias, and the Sudanese government—but also to hold the so-called Western civilized countries responsible, those that had the option to put more pressure through the UN or by financial or military means, and neglected to do so. And by extension, and I think most importantly, especially for Americans, to hold us personally responsible because we are the ones who are electing our government to act on our behalf, and we have to realize that there is a connection between what we do by stepping into a voting booth and in faraway places like Darfur and Afghanistan and other situations. So I feel my photography helps remind people of how interconnected we are, and the fact that the decisions we make as Americans here affect many, many people around the world. And lastly, it’s an educational tool. It’s very important for the work to be used in order to hopefully awaken students to a better understanding of situations like genocide as they move into positions of power in the real world.

Do you feel like you’ve gained some insight into human nature by immersing yourself in conflict zones time and again?

The greatest realization I made was that there’s greater similarity between cultures than differences. I think the basic idea of the family and of people wanting the best for themselves and for their children you will hear from probably everybody—from a Darfurian, or a Rwandian, or a Bosnian, or somebody in New York—and everybody has similar dreams and hopes. I think that’s what makes it much more poignant—to understand that there are these similarities of just wanting to have peace and wanting security and prosperity for your family.

Chris Hedges, in his book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, talks about becoming addicted to traveling to and reporting from conflict zones, a phenomenon he found common among his journalist colleagues. Do you feel a visceral sense of being drawn to these areas?

I think there’s a definite understanding and desire to go back to these areas, knowing that very few people are doing that and there are things that need to be told, that your work can have an impact. Another thing about going to conflict zones is that quite often in conflict zones you’re witnessing history—the birth of a nation or the death of a nation. That’s quite an amazing thing to be able to witness for yourself and a privilege to be able to show people your interpretation of.

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