back 7 of 11 next
       Where is Bosnia?

I remembered my father, his amputated arm and his pain, his descriptions of addiction to morphine, of World War II, the German occupation and the concentration camps. I began to think that I had come to Bosnia in part to see, almost to relive visions buried in my childhood memories. Fathers telling horror stories from the war. Mental images so horrific that one is compelled to actually “see” them to deal with them. And to see them, you have to act them out.

–Gilles Peress, Farewell to Bosnia, 1994

This photograph shows people digging a mass grave in Bosnia. Part of its horror is that it seems like an everyday event conducted by rather ordinary people. Gilles Peress used his camera in Bosnia to show how complicated war can be. The people in this photo hardly look like monsters, and the grave site could be in a small-town backyard in the American Midwest.

A camera can often serve as a shield as well as a witness to scenes like this one. By placing a camera between us (and himself) and these burial preparations, we all become removed from the actual experience. Yet the photo is terrifying if you stop to ponder what came before and after the moment in this picture. Were the people who were meant for this grave alive or dead when this photo was taken? Peress doesn’t give us a clue.


back 7 of 11 next
Minneapolis Institute of Arts