The recent war in Libya was followed closely by the world’s media, photographers from around the globe headed to the conflict zone to the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. Their images often made the front page and many won international prizes including a World Press Photo award for Rémi Ochlik’s ‘ Battle for Libya’. Photographers also made the headlines with Tim Heatherton among several killed whilst reporting on the conflict.
In the rush to document the advance on Tripoli other elements of the war were sometimes overlooked. Recently the BBC was accused of being biased to the side of the rebels, failing to equally document the atrocities carried out on both sides. The plight of the many foreign nationals working in Libya was one issue that quickly fell by the wayside. Many black Africans were imprisoned attacked or even killed by the local population in the often mistaken belief they were mercenaries in the pay of Colonel Gaddafi.
In Case of Loss concentrates on Bangladeshi nationals who found themselves a long way from home and in the middle of a warzone. Francesco Giusti photographed at the Tunisian border which saw a huge influx of Bangladeshi’s as thousands of the estimated 70,00 working in Libya fled the war. Most had taken dangerous routes across deserts under constant threat of attack or robbery, when they arrived the struggle continued in overcrowded and undersupplied refugee camps.
Anyone familiar with photography’s uses throughout history will be quick to realize that passport style images are often synonymous with conflict and loss, official documents that are sometimes are all that remains of people killed or missing.
Here the images are attached to the subjects bag, the idea being the picture would help reunite the two in the likely case of loss. For some these bags are all they have left, Giusti explains:
With the help of the World Bank and the Bangladeshi government, 35,000 migrants have been able to return to Bangladesh in the aftermath of the uprising – most of them heavily in debt, and with no ready means of earning a living at home. Their traumatic return also underscores the difficulties that many overcame to get to Libya in the first place; many have sold their homes and mortgaged their own lives for the opportunity to provide for their families by earning income overseas.
The project shows how ‘quiet’ conflict photography can be; the series is simple in premise and execution yet extremely powerful. From the similarity of the images we know this is only a small sample of the thousands who now need to rebuild their lives. In Case of Loss is just one example of how a local conflict can have global repercussions.
As the uprising in Syria continues it will be interesting to see the photographic legacy of this war. A ban on foreign press and with several reporters and photographers killed or wounded, perhaps unlike most conflicts in recent history it will be the countries own citizens who create the headline images.