My Conflict and Trauma in Photographs

Louie Palu

November 29, 2008





The Concept & Experience


In 2006 after covering a suicide bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan I was reminded how simple yet complex visualizing conflict and trauma can be. At the scene of the attack my mind absorbed every visual, sound and smell from the event. The longer I looked at the aftermath while photographing, the more my mind recorded. This was the simple, yet still terrible reality of being there. The complexity of it all followed later when my mind finally began attempting to process the overwhelming memories of images, sounds and smells of what I just experienced and recorded with my camera.


The greatest obstacle I face as a photographer is how to communicate in visuals what I experience and witness first hand. It seems almost impossible to bring any sense of my direct experience to a viewer of any images. In our time, the vast majority of the world that has experienced war is through visual representation. The only people who truly understand the nature of war are people who were there. This confronts me with the dilemma of making images that say something on the nature of conflict and trauma without completely shocking the audience, which leads to no constructive end. It is here between avoiding sensational images and recording fact that I try to find something that says how I feel as a human being.


The Portfolio


The images contained here are from three bodies of work, Zhari-Panjwai: Dispatches from Afghanistan, which is a body of work in color from the districts where Taliban leader Mullah Omar began the Taliban movement. The second body of work, are black and white images and is still in the editing phase, it is titled Tarnak Farms. Tarnak Farms is a former al Qaeda training camp and now a coalition firing range. The final set of images, are also black and white and are from a work in progress involving American soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the working title Twilight.


Process and Presentation


I never know in advance how I am going to photograph or approach any subject matter when covering war. The only certainty is having my camera and reacting instinctively in my own personal manner. Afterward, in the editing process I decide which images best communicate what I witnessed and experienced. Then I attempt to construct a narrative that tells a story. The portfolio I have edited for this journal is from the past two years. I have been covering the war in Afghanistan since 2006 and am currently engaged in a number of projects covering conflict and trauma.


The choices I make between black and white or color, one camera format or another is very organic. I work with whatever feels right for that particular project and commit to one format for continuity. I prefer large bodies of work that I can construct narratives with. News organizations and publications rarely allow the necessary budget and resources to commission long-term in-depth bodies of work. As a result most of my work is self-assigned and I finance them by whatever (legal and ethical) means possible. Portions of my work are edited into smaller photo essays, which are published regularly by publications worldwide. In some cases museums and art galleries adopt the work for exhibitions and festivals.


In the practice of art, I believe in the deconstruction and reevaluation of old ideas and the exploration of alternative display and presentation of images. Consequently, I have been experimenting with sound and digital projections. I am also currently completing my first video and multi media pieces, all produced in Afghanistan. I have always believed in a constant dialogue on the issues we all must eventually face, it is only through the constant discourse, change and evolution in the presentation of these ideas can we continue to discover new avenues in understanding who we are.




Louie Palu-Bio


Louie Palu has worked as a documentary photographer for 18 years. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1991. In 1991 he began a 12-year project documenting the working lives of miners titled Cage Call: Life and Death in the Hard Rock Mining Belt, which won the Critical Mass Book Award in 2005.


Louie's work has appeared in numerous publications, festivals and exhibitions internationally, which includes being selected for the photojournalism festival Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France five times, Internationale Fototage in Mannheim/Ludwigshafen in Germany, George Eastman House, Ping Yao Festival in China, Fotografia International Festival of Rome, Voies Off Fringe Festival in Arles, France, Centrum for Fotografi in Stockholm, Sweden, including exhibitions in Russia, Portugal and Brazil.


Louie is the recipient of numerous awards including a Hasselblad Master Award and a Best of Photojournalism Award in 2008, including a Silver Medal from the Society of Newspaper Design for photography. He has covered numerous issues throughout the world including the war in Afghanistan over the past three years and the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. His work has appeared in numerous print and web publications including The New Yorker, Newsweek, Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Forbes, USA Today, NPR and The Globe and Mail.







 Palu_Trauma.pdf (1.43 MB)  


Photography and the Political Arena, January 2009