Young Reporter competition: war photos without the blood
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Jeremy Boo was one of five winners of the ICRC Young Reporter competition in 2011. He travelled to Georgia in February that year to photograph and write about Georgians after the 1993 and 2008 conflicts, and his “Frozen War” exhibition documents the dreams and memories of Georgians affected by conflict.
You wanted people to know that “poverty is not as simple as it seems.” Why?
In our bite-sized Facebook reality, we place great emphasis on visually arresting images and dramatized statistics. We tend to forget that there are people behind the blood and numbers. Instead, we define these people by their circumstances in a one-dimensional reality. We tell ourselves things like "We see only blood in war photos so war ends when bombing ends" or "poverty can be solved with more money" or "people are poor and homeless because they’re lazy."
This is why I try to include culture, lifestyle, and identity in my stories. I hope people are reminded of the humanity behind war, poverty, and illness and I hope to illuminate the influences that perpetuate what we see. For Georgia, I also focused on an unseen aspect: the long-term psychological consequences of armed conflict.
What prompted you to run this exhibition at this particular time?
I paid for my decision to go deeper when I returned to Singapore and found the most unusual lack of interest in my work. Georgia is too remote from Singapore. More importantly, my work featured neither violence nor gore. I finally managed to explain the significance of this work to the people at The Arts House at The Old Parliament. They agreed that it was important to expose people to this unseen aspect of war, and they offered me exhibition space.
What was it like to work in Georgia?
Language was a challenge, but the ICRC interpreters helped me greatly. In many other ways, I found the experience easy, as the Georgians are friendly, hospitable, and warm-hearted people. They wanted to find out more about me and my country, and were always willing to engage in conversation.
The first thing that left an impression was that the ICRC was giving out micro-grants to encourage people to start businesses and rebuild their lives. I wondered why you weren’t just giving loans. My interviews revealed that some Georgians are worried that if war breaks out again they may lose everything – again. A grant eliminates the financial risk.
I also saw how important it was for ICRC to liaise between prisoners and family members. When possible, the ICRC even helps arrange meet-ups. This eases the psychological burden families bear when a family member is suddenly arrested.
How has life changed since you won the competition last year? What’s next?
The Georgia experience and my other journalism projects have deepened my interest in political economy, so I decided to study political science and economics at Waseda University in Tokyo.
I’ve also been working on “Before We Forget,” a campaign aimed at starting conversations about dementia in Asia, and I’ve produced an hour-long documentary, a series of multimedia exhibitions and a book. I also made a short documentary about paralympians in China. I’m determined not to fall into a student routine when I start my studies in Japan, and I’m still very interested in writing and making documentaries about the human condition and social issues.