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Photographer shares how conflict photography can be a tool for peace

Stephen Dupont shares his war experiences in Afghnaistan

By Zarrin Ahmed
On April 22, 2014

  • Pictured is the stage used at the Co-op Tuesday for the Long River Review’s launch party. The annual magazine, published with undergraduate content, is available for the price of $5. ZARRIN AHMED/The Daily Campus

Though Stephen Dupont has worked as a war photographer for many years, integrating himself into the lives of soldiers and of civilians, he considers himself an "anti-war photographer." On Tuesday afternoon, Dupont presented his work to an audience in the Dodd Center as part of an event titled "Generation AK: The Afghanistan Wars, 1993-2012."
Dupont took the audience through many of his collections, projects and assignments.
"As a photographer, the only way to get into the situation was to embed," he said, showing pictures of those affected by war, including an American nurse holding an Afghani child, marines taking a smoke break and curious civilians surrounding a humvee.
Dupont's words were scarce sometimes, providing locations and descriptions but allowing the viewers the time to feel the effects of the pictures.
When Dupont did speak about his own experiences and opinions, he spoke honestly. Displaying a picture of American troops evacuating wounded Afghanistan soldiers, he said he was surprised at how well Americans treated them.
Another picture showed troops from the United States 173rd Airborne burning the bodies of two Taliban militants in 2005. This experience, what he saw, he described as a "terrible thing" and a "grave mistake." Dupont said he knew that it was against Islam to burn Muslim bodies. He spoke about the anti-Islamic broadcastings the troops sent out into the valley for all to hear. He knew it was an important incident, and the pictures went viral on the web and were published in magazines.
As a result-what Dupont called the "positive spin off"-changes were made to United States foreign military policy. Cultural handbooks were made, talking about respect and sensitivities, and distributed to the troops.
"I am constantly looking for ways to say no to war," Dupont said. "It's very much a message."
Dupont said he strives to take pictures that hold that message. But he also said that his photographs are not "about the war, it's about the people."
Dupont said he finds power in simplicity; in just looking at someone; in creating testimonies to another's thoughts and memories. These are reasons he said he loves portraiture.
In 2009, he created "Why Am I a Marine?" Dupont called it an exercise that aimed to humanize the Marines, something he felt was necessary because it was a new approach to the war and it was dignifiable to the young men. He took a Polaroid camera, documented everyone in the platoon, and left his diary with the "boys" for a few days, with that one question posed to them. They each wrote an entry next to their pictures.
Having spent weeks with heroin addicts and mentally insane people in Afghanistan, photographing the brothers Reza and Hussain for the collection titled "Stoned in Kabul" in 2007, Dupont took on another portraiture project. This time he shot portraits of random people on the street for a collection titled "Axe Me Biggie!"
"You cannot lose the war in the eyes of the people," he said.
In three hours, he took one hundred pictures of one hundred people, capturing pride and other human emotions.
Dupont showed video footage and the pictures he took during a suicide bombing in 2008. As both a victim and an observer, he described the horror of the situation, but allowed the audience to see it for themselves in the pictures of dead bodies just moments after the explosion.
In a question and answer session that followed the presentation, Dupont spoke about the effect of war and admitted that he is always affected by it.
One way that he said he is able to cope with the traumatic things that he's seen is by realizing the truth of the situation and breaking it down. He said he starts with the civilians, and their reality. The civilians live in war and lose loved ones. Their suffering, Dupont said, is nothing comparable to his own. He knows that he willingly puts himself into war as an observer, and has the ability to take himself out. He spends time with his family and spends time surfing to help cope, but returns to Afghanistan.
"It was a country going through horrific and important events in their history," Dupont said, "and I saw that, and I felt that."
Dupont's presentation is part of a larger, week-long event hosted by The Human Rights Institute called "A Week in Humanities: War and Its Meaning." On Thursday there will be events from 12:30 p.m. until 4 p.m., and on Friday there are events from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information the events are listed on the Humanities Institute page on the UConn website.

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