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Images that tell stories with empathy and insight

Madhur Tankha

A remarkable exhibition of black-and-white photographs



Fear for life: One of the photographs at the exhibition that ends today.

NEW DELHI: Bangalore-based film-maker and photographer Ryan Lobo specialises in both the creative mediums and his eye for detail is evident at his ongoing photo exhibition, “War and Forgiveness”, at Art Motif Gallery in Lado Sarai here these days.

Ryan's series of black-and-white images from war-torn countries do not romanticise war stories. In fact, the pictures try to capture forgiveness narrating stories of ordinary folks who for no fault of theirs have been caught up in the wars.

Synonymous with capturing controversial subjects with empathy and insight, Ryan's ongoing collection can be expressed in three stages. “The exhibition portrays Liberia as a war criminal's search for redemption in the aftermath of a civil war; Afghanistan as the Taliban backed heroin trade in Afghanistan and Baghdad as a city under conflict and the lives of people in war time.”

Noting that war enjoys exciting press in our story-telling tradition, the artist says photographs of men firing guns and charging forward make for great selling visuals. “In 2007, during my travels to Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia 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.”

Having been in the business of making documentaries for well over a decade now, Ryan found that at the end of a shoot his photographs surprisingly told a better story than a slickly edited documentary.

“With my photographs, I felt that I was holding on to something true. What resonate in quiet moments – sometimes months or years after a shoot – are the people on the ground in the places who I interacted with. They included drivers and security contractors, little girls in desolate villages far removed from a chance of education, former mass-murderers with compassion and an understanding of human-nature beyond the ordinary and simple acts of kindness from people who have suffered immensely,” he recalls.

Ryan's much talked about film Redemption of General Butt Naked is a work about war, forgiveness and a possible reconciliation.

Joshiua Milton Blahyi had earned himself the name “general butt naked” by fighting stark naked during Liberia's civil war as he believed he was protected by magical powers when he did so. “Later we went down to shoot a film about him and that process continued for almost five years. I am fascinated with this former mass murderer because he represents the possibility of what we could be for worse and possibly for better now. Joshua claims to have murdered about 20,000 people. During the film-making, I photographed the ostensible quest of this man looking for redemption and forgiveness. In Liberia, I saw a woman whose brother had been murdered ostensibly forgive the general who had killed him and photographed the moment,” says he.

It seemed strange to Ryan that people who have suffered terribly find it easier to forgive, find personal healing in that act and be open to peaceful resolutions than those who have ostensibly not suffered. “Or maybe they are just very tired and incapable of other actions. I am not sure.”

The fortnight-long exhibition ends today (Friday).

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