Places to Die For


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Steve Davey is a successful travel photographer and author of the bestselling Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die. I haven't read his book, but assume it does not include images of what are commonly referred to as 'conflict zones'. With experience, travellers become more discriminating about their destinations. Many seek the unusual and avoid the routine and predictable. I can't imagine Davey advertised places of war and atrocity; areas worth dying for to some, but not worth visiting by anyone.

One of those 'awkward' tourists is Massimo Berruti, a young Italian photographer who decided not to backpack the outskirts of our lonely planet, like most of his peers. Instead he became a professional photographer who went to visit Pakistan, for example, in order to witness how local reporters have an everyday job dealing with the traps of military and Taliban propaganda. How they are challenged in their duty to investigate and inform the people. In 2009, Pakistan was the country with the highest number of journalists killed. Threatened with physical attacks, these media workers (colleagues of Berruti, if you will) consciously risk their lives to show and explain what it is that makes Pakistan an unforgettable place. They go out on the street, without hesitation, to make visible a country that people are willing to sacrifice for, continuously and without end.

Between 1860 and 1865, a somewhat similar group of people reported on a civil war that almost brought an end to the United States of America. Mathew Brady and a bunch of brave fellow photographers travelled to the battlefields and planted their cameras in the midst of the horror. Despite the obvious dangers, financial risk, and discouragement of his friends, Brady is later quoted as saying, "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." For Brady and comrades, the battlefields of the civil war were not just places to see before they died. They were believed to be worth dying for. For the first time in history, but far from the last, their images 'perpetuate' a physical sense of war, what it must have been like had we been there. The depicted destruction is an eloquent testimony of the violence which preceded the picture.

Between Brady and Berruti cum suis, there exists a long list of a nevertheless select number of committed reporters still recognising these locations as essential and worth seeing with own eyes. For all others to stay away from but for everyone to see. Without their 'souvenirs' there would be no pain of others, no grief to share, nothing to feel sorry for or angry about. There would only be places of pastime time-passing, 'stills' of top-notch historical tourist destinations once attractive for their extraordinary scenery, ancient monuments, and unusual cultures; of regions that maybe once were characterised by their rare wildlife, soaring architecture, or subliminal art but have become 'topos' with nothing more to advertise than the banality of their atrocities. These are the places that only attract those few brave photojournalists who stubbornly keep them on their 'must see' list.


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