The men pictured in this series are members of the Dinka Rek sub-tribe and self-identify as a “brigade.” In this exceptionally remote area of southern Sudan, there are no signs of the region’s soon-to-be-independent government. No army. No police. No civil servants. In this void, communities are wholly responsible for their own security in an environment of extreme risk and hostility. The ubiquitous presence of weapons creates a deadly and delicate power balance between the competing pastoralist groups. If the government moves to disarm one sub-tribe, they will face immediate threat of raiding from neighboring groups that retain their weapons.
In addition to be technically superb photographs, what I really like about these images is the individuality and identity that each of the subjects has. And by viewing a series of portraits, I get a sense of a textured community of discrete individuals, rather than a sort of pre-historic and stereotypical horde of angry men with guns and cows. It’s difficult to make the same sort of sweeping statements all too common in media coverage when you as a viewer are offered the chance straight into the eyes of a young woman or check out a dude’s awesome aqua and pink shirt. These images aren’t of a “tribe,” but of specific people with specific personalities who make specific choices.
Pete uses a similar method in a series of portraits of women in DRC all of whom were among “the nearly 50 women who described their brutalization and rape by a unit of Congolese soldiers who attacked Fizi, D.R.C. on Jan. 1, 2011.”
On Lightbox, Pete explains:
“Once we had established the condition of relative anonymity for the women, dozens of rape survivors were eager to pose for portraits. They moved quietly to the center of the room and waited patiently for me to work. In many instances, I was required to use my hands to make minor adjustments to their stance and location. Their faces were already covered and, given the horrible experiences they’d so recently endured at the hands of men, I felt overwhelming pressure to guide them as delicately as possible. I moved them gently by their shoulders and spoke softly in KiSwahili, a common language in eastern Congo. I felt the weight of crimes committed by fellow men and, in those moments, felt ashamed to be part of the group.”
There are many photos of women in DRC who have been raped, and many that hide the subject’s identity. But by creating a series of similarly staged portraits, Pete brings a sense of individuality to each of the women shown. I’m drawn to the bright vertical stripes the first woman wears, the slack arms of the second woman, the tender moments between mother and child. These images give evidence of the scope of the problem in a way that a one-off photograph or a more straightforward narrative photo essay on DRC does not demonstrate.
Thanks to Pete for letting me post so many of his images.