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The Fires Within

In this project, Haviv noted that "you can see the people and hear the people speak for themselves. By basically humanizing these types of conflicts it makes it much more real to people, and hopefully, will in one way force people to try to take action to stop conflict."

The Asia Society has posted an online multimedia project entitled The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War.

The project, which attempts to document the humanitarian costs of the civil war, showcases the work of photojournalist Ron Haviv, who has worked in conflict areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia.

The project can be viewed here:

http://www.asiasociety.org/pictureasia/thefireswithin/

 
A Sri Lankan girl, part of a group fleeing a government offensive against the LTTE, finds shelter at a destroyed mosque in Nanathan, Sri Lanka, Sept, 2007. (Ron Haviv/VII)
arrow Multimedia: The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War

 

Photographing Conflict to 'Give a Voice'

Ron Haviv discusses recent Sri Lanka project

NEW YORK, June 12, 2008 - Over his more than 20-year, award-winning career, American photojournalist Ron Haviv has traveled to dozens of war zones and hot spots around the world, trying to show, in pictures, the plight of civilians caught in conflict. But the often-touted ideal of "objectivity" is not necessarily his goal. When deciding what to capture in an image—and what to leave out—Haviv says his aim is to be "fair and truthful."

The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War
In an interview at Asia Society headquarters in New York on the subject of his recent multimedia project, The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War, Haviv gave his perspective on the country. "Sri Lanka is a place that very few people know about," he said. "It has had a civil war running for many years, and in civil wars there are lots of people who have no voices, and that is something I give a great importance to: going around the world and trying to give a little bit of a voice to those people through my photographs."

In this project, Haviv noted that "you can see the people and hear the people speak for themselves. By basically humanizing these types of conflicts it makes it much more real to people, and hopefully, will in one way force people to try to take action to stop conflict."

During his time in Sri Lanka, Haviv talked to all sides: Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim. He spent time with civilian victims from the different communities affected by the conflict in order to give viewers a better sense of the consequences of the war and, in particular, to demonstrate the disproportionate suffering of civilians on all sides.

The medium of photography, Haviv stressed, is uniquely placed to convey this message: "I think the strength of photography itself is inherent in the way we, as human beings, our brains work; when you remember things you remember them quite often in the still image. The still image has this ability, much more so than moving video, to kind of remain with you and sear itself into your mind."

As he shared his experiences in the country, Haviv said he was surprised to see the areas controlled entirely by the Tamil Tigers, complete with fully functioning parallel institutions including schools and courthouses. He witnessed how the Tamil Tigers were attempting to create their own autonomous region by providing basic necessities, even as some of the population was coerced by the LTTE to remain in those areas.

One of Haviv's main interests in covering the Sri Lankan conflict has to do with its effects on children. He spent a significant amount of time with children while he was in Sri Lanka, including those just released from the LTTE, and with parents of child soldiers. "When you have a war that's been going on for as long as it has been there, it is very important to try to understand how it passes from generation to generation because the only way it will stop is if one generation just says, 'Enough! We're not going to do it anymore'."

Haviv expressed hope that the audience will see that civil conflict, especially one as seemingly intractable as the one in Sri Lanka, can only be resolved with the political will of the international community. And if that does not happen, Haviv warned, it is innocent people who will continue to suffer.

Reported by Nermeen Shaikh, Asia Society Online

View The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War