“I went to eastern Congo last July (2006) to do photos for the UNHCR of the Internally Displaced (IDP’s) within the country. IDP’s had only recently become incorporated into the UNHCR mandate, and as such, the obvious place to cover it – due to the fact that the numbers of IDPs in DRC rivalled or exceeded anywhere else in the world.
I was especially keen to go there and do this. I knew that 4.5 million people had died over the course of the previous 6 years. I also knew that the estimate is that 1000 are dying – are still dying – every day due to causes associated with war and conflict. Yet despite the mind boggling magnitude of those figures -- most people don’t have any idea at all where the country even is. In some way, I was driven to see the reality behind the numbers; I wanted to bridge that unpardonable gap between the obvious catastrophes of the lives behind the figures with the somehow arid representation in the occasional news bulletins that come from the region. As such, too, it was clear to me before I even set out, that this gap absolutely needed to be narrowed and the public made aware in a meaningful enough way to be translated into the kind of pressure that forces change and accountability, even amongst the most unwilling.
While there I experienced the extremes. I began in S Kivu, with the repatriation of Congolese refugees. Carrying bundles of belongings and babies, their faces were filled with both the delight to be home – and – apprehension of what they might find. And, then, a moment of reunion between son and mother: a moment of absolute, overwhelming happiness. Then, to Mitwaba , in Katanga province. One of the points in the so-called triangle of death, Mitwaba had been recently filled with those fleeing the violence of the militias controlled by the infamous Gideon . There, in Mitwaba, I took pictures and collected the stories of those I deliberately photographed formally. I wanted to counter the knee jerk yet-another–starving-African reflex amongst viewers by presenting near life size images, which radiate the pride and fortitude of those portrayed , next to their accounts of the appalling events which had brought them there. I moved onto Ituri province, where I worked with the WFP and where my time in DRC was book-ended by tragedy. Clinics were filled with starving children and babies who were dying at a rate of 1 in 4, a figure which shocked even the experienced MSF doctor.
This was just before the country’s first elections in 45 years. Despite conditions, despite circumstances, there was optimism about the elections, optimism I found hard to share, and optimism I hope is not betrayed.”
Susan Schulman, 2007
Susan Schulman is an acclaimed, internationally published freelance photographer, based in London.
Specialising in editorial and documentary work, Susan also undertakes work for NGOs and other non-profit organisations. Most recently, Susan has returned (May 07) from Helmand/Kandahar in Afghanistan, where she did a commission on the RAF emergency medical services, for the RUSI Journal, and where she also produced a piece on ‘Women and Collateral Damage’. Prior to that, (March/April 07) she did a story on Brazil’s newest gold mine destroying the virgin Amazon forest, and in February 07, her photos appeared in the Telegraph magazine special annual travel issue, as commissioned for a piece on the Mekong. In Oct/Nov 06, Susan was in Afghanistan, where she did photos for the UNHCR, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation and a first chapter on the UK military emergency medical services in Helmand/Kandahar. . Earlier in 2006, she spent a month in Democratic Republic of Congo, where she worked for the UNHCR, WFP, the Daily Telegraph and the Independent and, also in 2006, she travelled to West Africa, and then to the Falklands and South Atlantic, where she completed a 6 month commission, for the RUSI magazine on the deployment of the HMS Liverpool, for whom she also did ‘Portrait of a Company’ following the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment through their deployment in Iraq. In between, the assignments, she did work within the UK.
If you wish to find out more about the photographer and her work please visit Susan Schulman.