Like any photographer attempting to piece together the kaleidoscope of the past, one image at a time, I still feel disturbed by the ambiguities of my journey. When I started my career as a freelance photojournalist in 1991, I plunged immediately into the strife of the war-torn republics of the former Soviet Union. I had set out on the photographic life as eager to embrace joy as I was to find sorrow, but then, with time, I struggled to bridge the distance between those extremes. I joined The New York Times in 1995, based first in Moscow and then in Rome, departing to cover the war on terror in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. And over time, a darkness began to encroach on me, with the moments of violence I saw hardening me without me realizing.
It takes a far finer balance than I ever imagined to live with these images, the result of decades of trespassing in the emotional no-man’s land somewhere between war and peace, where the number of deaths seems somehow to lessen the value of life.
If I searched for forms of beauty in war and for closure in peace, I found them only in fleeting moments.
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The Grandmother, Staraya Sunzha, Chechnya, January 15, 2000
During the First Chechen War, in 1994-1996, most journalists could cross the front lines at will, largely respected by both sides. But by the time Russian forces reinvaded Chechnya, in 1999, unhindered movement for the press had become virtually impossible. The Chechen forces had splintered into wildly disparate groups with shifting allegiances and a general hostility to outsiders, including journalists. The Russians, for their part, made no secret of their mistrust of the foreign press, believing that many reporters romanticized the Chechen cause, and that their access to the front should be minimal. Only when the Russian advance towards Grozny, the Chechen capital, gathered momentum and victory over the rebels was in sight did the Russians allow us near the fighting, and even then we were under tight supervision.