WAR REPORTER: Living a life in a state of emergency, renowned war photographer Jan Grarup's work has taken him to conflict zones around the world, from Darfur to Mosul.
Francesca Borri
Italian journalist and writer. She contributes regularly to Modern Times Review.
Published date: September 20, 2019

He is asked which picture he cares for the most. That explains his work the most. And, after 25 years of wars, and famines, earthquakes, hells of all sorts, Jan Grarup shows a black and white shot of a couple hand in hand in the rubble, the woman in high heels against a background of smoke. Haiti. «Because it’s all about love».

Bare essentials

More than the images of blood and violence, and there are plenty of them since he witnessed the Rwandan genocide, marking him forever; more than the images of knives at throats, guns to heads, a corpse on a windscreen, his most famous photos are of ruins. Ruins from all over the world: a child who makes a swing from an electric cable in Mosul, behind him fighting rages on; a woman in Mogadishu who looks at the sea from a bombed-out hotel; or Kashmir, with a barber who shaves a man. For a mirror, a glass splinter, because, in fact, we all come back with more beauty than when we left. And except for the adventurers, for the adrenaline junkies who become war correspondents for money and fame, that’s what we are captured by, like moths flying into the danger and the light, as Stanley Greene said – the beauty of naked life. Of life reduced to its bare essentials. With no frills and furbelows, nothing needless. No fictions anymore. A life of brutally honest feelings, including hate, greed, envy, yearning. Everything. Including its opposite. And boundless altruism and idealism.

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Parallel stories. Parallel lives

But there’s no point in trying to explain all that. Trying to explain war to those who have never experienced it. And that’s why this documentary on Danish photographer Jan Grarup, one of the best around – winner of the Eugene Smith Prize, the World Press Photo four times, and the 2005 Visa D’Or for Darfur – speaks through its plot but also, above all, through its structure. It is about two parallel stories. Two parallel lives that interchange without ever crossing – about a man who watches the latest news from the Middle East on a rooftop, away from his kids. With them, at dinner, he watches just football.

One moment you are in Copenhagen. In a Jaguar or in a stylish studio, taking powerful portraits, as soulful as paintings, with an old wooden …

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