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Difference Maker

'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.

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Among the topics of the photos: refugees in Europe, Armenians in Turkey, former soldiers in Croatia, child soccer players in Kenya, and a boy who was the only person in his village in Sierra Leone to survive a massacre. (Terry is working on a documentary about reconciliation efforts in Sierra Leone.)

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Terry is "a very good photographer herself," says Houston museum curator Tucker. "She understands the complexities of the medium of photography, so she's a good judge of people who have great ambitions and whether or not they can manifest them in visual terms. That is the goal and the challenge."

This year, two project-funded photographers are chronicling the aftermath of conflict within the United States. One is following injured veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, while another is in South Dakota, tracking the aftermath of the 19th century's Indian wars.

"I'm trying to show that commonality within ... people who persevere no matter the conditions that are put in front of them," says photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier, who's following native American families.

The Aftermath Project faces challenges moving forward. It must raise money for its grants to photographers. And there's the larger issue of distribution: The completed projects have yet to be published, and the books aren't major sellers. Terry's own book sold only 1,500 copies, though that's considered a success in the world of documentary photography.

"There's not always an audience for this kind of work," acknowledges Amy Yenkin, director of the Documentary Photography Project of the Open Society Institute, which helps fund The Aftermath Project. "But Sara has been a really good advocate not only for the project, but for these individual photographers."

There's also talk about a change in the project's focus to embrace video along with still images. Louie Palu, a Washington, D.C.-based photographer who's following Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, records audio interviews with some of his subjects but argues that a still photo has unique storytelling power.

"It allows for contemplation," he says. "You can look at it for a long time, turn away, and come back. And there's a silence in a photograph, where your mind is trying to figure out what the sounds might be."

At her house on a Los Angeles hillside, Terry has a moment of contemplation of her own as she recalls the Bosnian mass grave and the photo she took that inspired her future work.

"I don't know if there will be another war in Bosnia. Maybe there will," she says.

"But here's what I do know: I want to be there when that human hand reaches into the pit to take somebody from the grave and says, 'The final word is not the hatred that put you here. The final word is the humanity that brings you out and gives you back your name and says this is not what it means to be human.' "