by Michel Puech
Bataille de Leuctres 371 av.J.C. by Yan Morvan
Bataille d’Actium – 31 av.J.C. by Yan Morvan
Bataille d’Azincourt – 1415 by Yan Morvan
Fontenoy – 1745 by Yan Morvan
Austerlitz – 1815 by Yan Morvan
Verdun – 1916 by Yan Morvan
Auschwitz by Yan Morvan
Die « Wolfschanze » - 1941-1944 by Yan Morvan
Débarquement en Normandie – juin 1944 by Yan Morvan
Bataille de Berlin – mars 1945 by Yan Morvan
At the 19th annual Prix Bayeux-Calvados for war correspondents, the book fair was a great success. In addition to the remarkable testimonies found in Bosnia 1992-1995 and Révolutions, the book tribute to Rémi Ochlik, the story told by Edith Bouvier had my full attention, and I hope it will have yours, too.
The pupils of her eyes are as black as the muzzle of a revolver cannon. But under her watchful gaze, which is by turns searching and merry, we see her smiling mouth, and it says little. Edith Bouvier thinks before she speaks, and what she says is tinged with irony, as is the title of her new book, Chambre avec vue sur la guerre. (Its cleverness is lost in translation.)
Some readers may have seen Bouvier on television, lying wounded on a sofa in Homs, Syria, where bombs fall day and night. In the video she tries to reassure her friends and family that she is safe. In the same film, we see the photographer William Daniels speaking calmly about the situation there, along with Paul Conroy from the Sunday Times Magazine, also injured, and Javier Espinosa from El Mundo.
A few days beforehand, on Wednesday, February 22, 2012, Marie Colvin, from the Sunday Times, and Rémi Ochlik, from IP3 Press, were killed during a bombing.
“Marie and Rémi are stretched out on the steps in front of us. I lean against the wall, speechless. William throws himself over them. Rémi is lying face-down. I can only see his beautiful profile. His eyes are closed. It seems like he only fainted. William sits next to Rémi, patting his cheeks to wake him. I can only see Marie’s blond hair.”
And so begins a long and agonizing wait to escape this hell: “I didn’t sleep a wink. We smoked so much the room was veiled in a cloud of nicotine. Outside day was barely breaking and already one could hear the heavy thud of shells falling on the city. A first impact. I feel the ground move, a slight tremor. That one must have fallen far away. Paul [the photographer for the Sunday Times and a former soldier in the British army —Ed.] teaches me how to listen to the shells, and anticipate them so as to lessen the shock. If you understand something, you know how to fight against it better, and are less afraid. He explains how to tell where the shells are coming from based on the sound and the vibrations, and where the tank is, if it’s approaching or moving away, if it’s aiming at a specific target or just raining fire on a whole area. I learn the language of war. I hadn’t spoken it before. And I learn to listen, to understand, to translate.”
Bayeux for war correspondents
Edith Bouvier tells the story of a war correspondent. Even if the term today is often rejected by the reporters themselves, it remains true that journalism performed in “conflict zones” is a particular profession, one that is the subject of a brief but deeply interesting book, Grands reporters de guerre entre observation et engagement, published in the collection Les rencontres de Normal Sup’. (Currently, the book is only available in French.)
“In this business, which I’ve been in for more than 25 years, I’ve never learned how not to be afraid,” writes Renaud Girard, one of Bouvier’s colleagues at Le Figaro, in Retour à Peshawar (Ed. Grasset 2011), cited in the previously mentioned book.
Fear and injury are part of the job. Patrick Chauvel, whose body, according to Jean-Fraçois Leroy, director of the Visa pour l’Image festival, serves as a “map of 20th century conflicts,” makes no effort to conceal his fears, nor the risks he takes. In the book Les pompes de Ricardo Jésus, Chauvel wrote:
“This is a dangerous job you journalists do,” says my neighbor.
“You have a point. It’s true that wherever we go, half of the people we meet want us dead, the others refuse to speak to us, and the people who agree to talk to us, even those who are grateful that we’re there, are going to try to use us by telling us their version of the facts. The ‘truth,’ which is why we’re there, is somewhere in the middle of that shit show we call ‘war’ and ‘revolution.’ It’s our job to flush it out and show it to people living in the world of peace. It will take a lot of work to get people in other parts of the world interested, people who have the same problems. In other words, we have to do our job.”
In em>Chambre avec vue sur la guerre , Edith Bouvier speaks of her fears with a great deal of modesty, and pays a well-deserved tribute to the photographer William Daniels, who helped her get through their interminable waits during the bombings. “What else would I have done? Run away?” he told me last weekend at Bayeux, with a hint of irritation in his voice, when I commended him for his courage. “Forget it, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Nevertheless, although the spotlights are trained on the dead and wounded, they rarely shine on the survivors or the people in the shadows working to save lives in these extreme situations. “The man carrying me gently let me down into the back of a truck,” Edith Bouvier told the story of her first attempt to leave Baba Amr. “He turned toward me, shook my hand, and went on to help others. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. But he risked his life to save mine.”
Today, Daniel and Bouvier are trying to call attention to the Syrians who are still suffering in this horrible war. Their concern is justified, because the world goes on in shameful silence, in fear of an international conflict or the rise of radical Islam. We feel a reluctance in the public opinion to support the combatants fighting against the horrible and bloody Damascus regime. And when public opinion hesitates, the press follows suit. It’s revealing that the jury of the Prix Bayeux-Calvaods chose to honor those working on the war in Libya, rather than the war in Syria.
Every year they meet in Normandy, in a city miraculously spared by the bombings that ravaged the region in 1944. The festival is held only a few kilometers from where Allied forces landed, that is to say, not far from the largest cemetery of British soldiers, and a stone’s throw from the graves of Canadians, Americans, Australians and many other nations...
After the devastation of countless conflicts, from Vietnam to Congo, from Cambodia to Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico and a hundred others places where civilians have paid with their blood, since 2010 it’s the ‘Arab Spring’ that has plunged us into mourning.
And so begins a macabre series...
Like many of my colleagues, I will never forget the afternoon of Friday, January 14, 2011, when I learned over the phone that Lucas Dolega had been seriously injured by tear gas canister, “Made in France,” thrown by a Tunisian policeman. Apparently the canister hadn’t hit him directly, but after a bounce. Still, Dolega was dead.
Wars and revolutions have no respect for mourning periods. The ceremony for Lucas Dolega at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris had barely ended when his friends purchased their tickets for Cairo. In Révolutions , the magnificent tribute to the work of Rémi Ochlik, one of his colleagues shares a text message sent by Ochlik. “I’m not going. They told me not to go. I spent 600 euros on a plane ticket but so what? I don’t want to die.”
The day after, he sent an email to his partner, Emilie Blachère, a journalist at Paris Match. “I changed my mind. I’ll be in Cairo tomorrow at 4 am”. Later he went with many others to Libya, where on April 20, 2011, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed in Misrata. Hetherington died in Marie Colvin’s arms. We only learned six weeks later that the South African photographer Anton Harmmerl had also died... And then there are all of our Arab colleagues, whose names are difficult to pronounce. We forget to mention them, even at the memorial ceremony at Bayeux. But Reporters Without Borders handles the grim but necessary accounting.
After a few months, the “Theatre of War,” as they say in the military, moved to Syria. On January 11, 2012, with a slight delay, television viewers witnessed the bombing of Homs where the camerman Gilles Jacquier, from Envoyé Spécial, died as his wife Caroline Poiron watched. Absolute horror.
The whole profession was shaken once again. Where are these bombs coming from? As if we needed more proof, something to really hit home, for us to condemn the dictatorship of the Syrian president.
We were still asking ourselves the same question when Jean-Pierre Perrin made headlines in Libération with the martyr of Homs. It came out when Baba Amr, Edith Bouvier, Rémi Ochlik and William Daniels arrived... Marie Colvin, the legendary one-eyed journalist from The Sunday Times, sent an email, cited in Vanity Fair, to her photographer friend Janine Di Giovanni: We can’t leave now that the Eurotrash is here. I want to move at 5:30 in the morning I refuse to be beaten by the French.” The competition is fierce, even at the front!
It’s even more violent now in print and television than in photojournalism. Photographers will gladly tell you, two or three decades after, the dirty tricks they played on other agencies in the 20th century. The massive decrease in the amount of assignments has strengthened the fellowship among photographers. And on the ground covering the Arab Spring, it’s been a relatively clean fight. For print journalists, however, the tension has risen. Are social networks to blame?
Javier Espinosa from El Mundo, winner of this year’s Prix Bayeux-Calvados for his reporting from Homs, had not a single word at the awards ceremony for those who died at his side... Modesty? Still, he wrote in his winning article: “Death is always associated with darkness. Perhaps because black is always lurking nearby wherever death goes. ‘I’m hit!’ Those were Paul Conroy’s first words we heard ring out in the total darkness. ‘Marie, too!’ Marie Colvin had been decapitated in the explosion. The clearing smoke revealed a horrific vision. Several bodies lay amid the rubble, along with the computers and cameras of journalists. The rocket had fallen right near the entrance. The shock wave had devastated the room serving as a makeshift home for foreign and local journalists. For one of them, Hussein, 22, ‘It was Allah’s will.’ For me and William Daniels, it was a wall.”
Marc Charuel, a reporter, writer and photo director for the group Valmonde, cast a cold glance on the profession in his survey Les cercueils de toile:
“Obviously, all of this changed nothing about war. You’ll never hear it, but those who left rarely, at first, spoke about the horrors they witnessed. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single correspondent who won’t swell with pride at the mere mention of the filthy places he’s waded through, who only treats as equals those who have seen what he’s seen. The only question he cares about is, ‘Were you there?’ Sometimes they don’t even know what war they went to cover or why. But these people couldn’t have been anywhere else... It’s an exclusive club whose members have nothing else to prove. They just have to take stock of the terror others have felt and transport it from one place to another, to live with it and hope others know they carry it with them. In the end, it’s only after a great deal of effort, and a great deal of suffering, that one realizes the person most affected by the photographs is the photographer himself, that the photographer still carries those injuries, that those images have become an essential part of his person, and that they have brought him before his time to the Great Tribe of the Dead spoken of in the Bantu proverb.”
Like Marc Charuel, Yan Morvan sometimes has a bitter taste in his mouth. In Reporter de guerre (La Martinière) he says: “1982, 1983, 1984, 1985. I spent four years in the hell of war. I didn’t emerge from that experience unscathed. I became cynical, earning money from that horror.”
“The life choices made by these war reporters still attracts the public’s interest,” wrote Antonin Durand in his foreword—which will also serve as a conclusion—to the collection of interviews « Grands reporters de guerre ».
“Everyone wanted to better understand the motivations of the civilians who rushed to places everyone else was trying to flee. They were showing the world what everyone feels they should know, without being ready to face it.”
« Révolutions » Photographs by Rémi Ochlik
Editeur : Emphas.is Journalism expérience Dublin 2012
Bosnia 1992-1995 avec de nombreuses photographies du conflit.
Only available to « Comme un roman » 39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris Tel: +33 (0)9 79 21 06 80
Chambre avec vue sur la guerre d’Edith Bouvier
Editions Flammarion - 2012
Grands reporters de guerre, entre observation et engagement of Pierre Barbancey, Renaud Girard, Jean-Pierre Perrin, Jon Swain. Entretiens conduits par Emmanuel Laurentin et Gilles Pécout
Editions Les rencontres de Normal Sup’ - 2012
Les pompes de Ricardo Jésus de Patrick Chauvel
Editions Kero - 2012
Les cercueils de toiles de Marc Charuel
Editions du Rocher - 1998