The following article was published in the June-September 2018 Summer print & e-edition of Global Geneva.
FOR 43-YEAR-OLD KRISTIAN SKEIE, “Life After Genocide” is a general headline that he has been using for the past eight years. It first started with a visit to Srebrenica together with a group of Webster University students from Geneva. “It was a rather short visit, but we met with survivors in addition to going to the memorial site in Potočari just outside of Srebrenica. Potočari is an old factory where the Dutch UN forces had their HQ during the war. Having met so many people who survived, I found myself with far more questions than answers. I knew I had to visit again. I did, so ended up returning many times during the following years.”
Skeie has now moved from Lausanne, Switzerland to Sarajevo not only to work more closely around this topic, but to focus more on the future of Bosnia and the Balkans as a whole. Both personally and as a photographer, he notes that the whole issue of “never forget” has affected him profoundly. For seven decades, as the New York Times recently pointed out, this has been the rallying cry for the remembrance movement of the Nazi-instigated World War II Holocaust.
“Remembering and being aware of the past is vital,” Skeie maintains. “Yet humanity continues to repeat itself. We must learn from and remember the disastrous faults of our ancestors. Only this way can we do better for future generations.”
Perceptions, however, can easily be perverted. Recently, he further points out, it was reported that 31 percent of Americans thought that two million Jews (instead of six million) had been killed during the Nazi Holocaust. Half of all Americans in the U.S. also thought that Hitler gained power through force rather than political maneuvering and the usurping of the democratic process. History, he adds, is important. “So, as journalists or photographers, we constantly have an obligation to follow up and report.”
During the Srebrenica massacre, more than 8,000 men and boys were killed in one week. In Rwanda, barely one year before, more than 800,000 people were killed in just over 100 days. “The numbers are high; my work has been about getting to know some of the people who experienced this,” he explains.
As a photographer, Skeie believes that it is easier to understand, to remember and to learn once you talk and listen to those involved, beyond the statistics. “This can only happen during longer-term projects. Most of the people I photograph become friends or people I continue to stay in touch with.”
PHOTOGRAPHY AND LANGUAGE
Skeie considers image-making to be another language. If used well, it means you are communicating with the people you work with. “I never hide the fact that I am a photographer. I use only moderately wide lenses with little or no distortion. The important thing is to stay close and to show respect. It’s always a collaborative exercise between the photographer and the people being photographed.”
Furthermore, Skeie considers himself fortunate, if not privileged, to meet so many who show strength by picking up the pieces of what is left after having lived through awful times in war and genocide. “So my photography, perhaps, is giving something in return,” he says.
“Every year, there is a peace march lasting three days and covering 120 km between Tuzla and Potočari. It follows the same route taken by the men, boys and some women who tried to escape after Srebrenica fell on 11 July 1995 to Ratko Mladić. (The former Bosnian Serb general was sentenced on 22 November, 2017 to life imprisonment for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague). Only this time (July 2018), the march went in the opposite direction. On arrival, there is a memorial service to bury all those newly identified remains of victims. More than 1,000 bodies remain to be buried properly. Others have yet to be discovered.” – Kristian Skeie
Previous articles in Global Geneva featuring photographs by Kristian Skeie.