In 2007, PhotoSensitive set out for Rwanda to capture images in the wake of the massacre of 1994 and Rwanda's ongoing problems with AIDS. The photos captured a country that on one hand still lives in the shadow of the genocide and of persistent racial tension but on another hand is dealing with a newer, larger problem. The images captured the Rwandan people still loving, still learning and still living, with both a horrible history and a difficult present, in the shadow of both genocide and pandemic.
The difficulties of photographing in Rwanda
Yuri Dojic, a key contributor to this project relates the difficulty of dealing with orphans of the massacre, and of AIDS. The photographer originally ran into resistance from local authorities. He remembered then that wherever else he goes — whether it is capturing images of survivors of the Rwandan genocide and AIDS or working in commercial photography — he had learned the importance of bypassing bureaucrats. "We went with a local girl and her housekeeper, deep into the slums and we were sudenly mobbed by what seemed to be hundreds of street children. They all rushed to meet us. Some had lost parents to the genocide or to AIDS; some had HIV/AIDS themselves."
Images of massacre survivors
The idea for capturing images of Rwanda belonged to Peter Bregg. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 had caught the world off guard with its sudden ferocity, its brutal efficiency and its unfathomable holocaust-like numbers. Estimates of the ultimate death toll range as high as one million dead, all within 100 days. Bregg had met Romeo Dallaire, the former United Nations Peacekeeping commander who witnessed the genocide firsthand and was powerless to stop it. He had also heard of the Rwanda Initiative and knew that Carleton University was working with the National University of Rwanda. He convinced PhotoSensitive photographers to get involved.
Seven PhotoSensitive photographers joined forces with the Rwanda Initiative and set out to capture images of Rwanda's struggle to break from its past and to deal with its AIDS pandemic. Seven photojournalists spent ten days in December 2007 in Rwanda photographing images and hearing individual stories. The trip partnered the PhotoSensitive photographers with seven local Rwandan photographers and journalism students.
Photography in RwandaThe teams of photographers went into local hospitals, orphanages and schools and captured images of life in Rwanda in 2007. Each PhotoSensitive photographer was teamed with a local photographer and a Rwandan student. On the first day, photographers were given a long list of possible assignments, and they sat around and chose who would do what - 'I'll do the hospital, you do the orphanage, you do the school.' After ten days of shooting, they got together to review what they had shot.
The pictures were shocking to Rwandan newspaper editors — not for their subject matter, though. The editors were invited to share a coffee and review some of the images taken during the ten days. The experience helepd the Rwandan newspaper editors change their thinking just a little bit according to Andrew Stawicki, and they were in fact shocked to find out their own photographers had taken some of the images. "The way their own photographers shot those pictures had changed forever. They were used to taking head shots, formal photos. Boring! Boring! Boring! We changed how they looked at things."
Hope and joy still live: kids playing in water hole near Kigali, Rwanda. By Kevin Van Paassen