'Sahel – The Dynamics of Dust', photo report
Haunting Images from a Forgotten Conflict Zone
How is it possible to adequately document the life of rebels in the Sahel? With the means of classic photojournalism, the photographer Philippe Dudouit from Lausanne approaches a region which is among the poorest and most inhospitable in the world. His photo project is entitled 'Sahel – The Dynamics of Dust'. In 2008, he spent three months with Tuareg rebels in the north of Mali and Niger and has sporadically returned to this area ever since – the project is thus a work in progress. What Dudouit brings back are haunting images of a forgotten conflict zone. When the former Sahel nomads began to settle down, arms and drugs smuggling became rampant, ultimately leading to an almost total collapse of tourism. Radical Islamic groups now recruit young people in the area, while rebel groups fight against the central governments in Mali and Niger. Philippe Dudouit avoids succumbing to the lure of the exotic and creates silent and unspectacular images: an airplane wreck in the sand of the desert, a fallen tower which is already half covered in sand, a stranded armoured personnel carrier in the courtyard of a building, with armed soldiers next to it. Dudouit in a gentle way portrays the people, often children and youths. A young man proudly poses in a red-brown batik robe, wearing a beige turban and white plastic sandals. The image is actually unspectacular. Only a second look reveals that on his chest the young man wears a green army pouch which probably contains ammunition. Another image shows Mohammed, a young man with a green turban, blue flip-flops, and a red-orange T-shirt with 'King's County' printed on it. He – and even this is not immediately apparent – is holding a Kalashnikov in his hands. He describes himself as 'self-employed' and lives in the North of Niger, in a rebel and civil war zone which is largely ignored by the West. The pictures of the photographer trained at the School of Photography in Vevey are silent but haunting. They stick in our visual memory.