'The Aftermath Project': Photographers go back after the war
The effects of war linger past the fighting, as Sara Terry found out herself when she documented a mass grave being dug up in Bosnia.
Unwilling to disturb the dead and the people recovering their remains, she and her camera observed from a distance.
Then a Polish forensic anthropologist ordered Ms. Terry to join her in a pit full of the bodies of young Muslims killed at Srebrenica. Shedding her reluctance, Terry did as she was told, standing on a mound next to the workers, trying to avoid becoming ill. Then she turned her camera on the anthropologist as she gently cradled a teenage boy's partially preserved hand in the muck.
Captured on film, the tender gesture reveals a bond formed across an abyss of time and tragedy. "When I show this picture, people look and look away very quickly," says Terry, speaking at her home in Los Angeles. "I always tell them to look again because this is the story of what it means to be human."
Her trips to Bosnia, years after the massacres and chaos of the 1990s, inspired Terry to promote a new rule for photographers: Go back. Return to the scene of war, she urges, and tell stories like this one through images.
With the help of donors, she has created The Aftermath Project, a nonprofit group that provides grants to photographers who want to chronicle what happens after the world turns its gaze away from a conflict. How do people recover? Do they escape the past or remain trapped by it? Can generosity and hope shine through the horror?
'War is only half the story,' Terry says, repeating the project's motto. "You don't have to say more than six words to someone to say what The Aftermath Project is about. People get it."
The project is small, with an annual budget of about $40,000 from donations as tiny as $10 and as large as $15,000. It has given grants to a small number of photographers, and limited distribution hampers the full impact of the photography on the public.
Still, Terry – a former writer for The Christian Science Monitor – has created a dialogue in the world of photography about the importance of returning to war-torn places and people.
"Sara's own experience of trying to come to terms with the extraordinariness of what she's experienced led her to talk to other photographers who admired her work and wanted to do similar things," says Anne Tucker, curator of photography at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which has exhibited Terry's work.
Photographs taken in the wake of war aren't new, of course. "The most immediate aftermath is the dead on the battlefield," Ms. Tucker says. "Then you have the residue, like bombed-out buildings and cities," such as the photos of Richmond, Va., after the US Civil War.
Terry's concept is to wait for years or even decades after a conflict before returning. That's what she did for several trips to Bosnia, which were compiled in her 2005 book that showed the struggles of what passes for peace.
"I wanted to shake people by the shoulders and say, 'How can you ignore this place? How can you not be connected and just walk on to the next crisis spot?' " Terry recalls. Out of these feelings came The Aftermath Project.
Some half-dozen photographers have received funds from the project. Their work has been included in two coffee-table books that were published in 2008 and '09.