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Our Artists > Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

After two years living in Congo, Gwenn decided to begin using his camera to document the issues he’d observed as an aid worker, and he now works full time as a freelance photographer.

About the series: Mobutu Palaces

In Mobutu, the former billionaire dictator, Joseph Mobutu remains Maréchal Mobutu Sesse Seko, the 'everlasting'. In 1967, two years after his coup d’état, he transformed the small villages where he was raised into a city with great infrastructure. A dam, a hydroelectric factory, an airport and three opulent palaces all rose from the African bush. Fourteen years after the President’s departure, nothing remains of these developments. Destroyed by weather, overwhelmed by vegetation and devastated by robberies, the palaces of the supreme leader are little more than mere skeletons of their former selves, wholly devoid of their former splendor for the eyes of visitors. 

Mobutu Palaces #1
Mobutu Palaces #2
Mobutu Palaces #3
Mobutu Palaces #4
Mobutu Palaces #5

About the series: Congo River

The Congo is the second largest river in the world, after the Amazon. It’s the majestic backbone to the country it shares its name with, linking the Katanga mines, the rainforests, and the capital city Kinshasa. Its banks are scarred by its industrial past.

Congo River #1
Congo River #2

About the series: Jecoke

Created in 1958 in the very popular district of "La Kenya" in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi since the independence), the Jeunes Comiques du Katanga – Jecoke – began by performing sketches for the miners after their work. Inspired by the workers song and the music from southern Africa, the group of actors quickly turned into a music band. Today, the liberating magic still operates. While the elders sing and play, free-and-easy elegant young men, half dancers, half acrobats, shiver their legs like Elvis on a dance called Kalinchelilincheli.


Why did you choose this subject?
My photographic work is a continuation of my previous volunteer work, two years with an NGO in Congo. I want my photographs to show the hard and unfair situations I was witnessing every day. I also fell in love with Congo, its people, its history. I’ve been photographing here full time for 15 months and I’m still very curious.

What do you see when you look at these photos?
These photos express the contrasts that are everywhere in Congo: tradition and development, wealth and poverty, joy and pain. In Congo, contradictions are more visible than anywhere else I’ve been. All the extremes are at your fingertips.

What research and production did you go through to make these images?
I decided to become a professional photographer after two years living in Congo. I knew the country pretty well, and I had a clear idea of what I wanted to show.

Do your images help the viewer understand the subject in a new way?
My pictures give a more nuanced view of the realities of Congo than most media, which cover only the occasional massacres. I do, however, try to stay away from the opposite lie, which would be to show only the positive sides of Africa. I’m really trying to capture the contrasts and contradictions.

What did you learn by making these images?
I learned more about Congo in six months as a photographer than I did in two years as an aid worker. to make these photos, I have traveled a lot, met many people, and looked into a wide range of issues. I think I gained an objective and realistic view of the country. I also learned that I could make a living by taking pictures, something I hope to continue in other places. 

Jecoke #1
Jecoke #2
Jecoke #3
Jecoke #4

About the series: Turkana Warriors

The drought which is ravaging the arid and semi-arid areas of the Horn of Africa has imposed a great deal of pressure on the already scarce resources in the region, and exacerbated the persistent conflicts between opposing pastoral tribes in the northern Kenya, the south of the Republic of South-Sudan, eastern Uganda and southern Ethiopia.
Squeezed one towards the other on increasingly pressurized pastures, the tribes, traditional enemies, multiply attacks to expand their herds and take control of the limited water sources. Every herd boy owns a rifle, even those as young as ten. 



Why did you choose this subject?
After more than two years working for a British NGO, coordinating unexploded ordnance, small arms, light weapons and stockpiles destruction programs, I decided to work as a photo-journalist and document the legacy of armed conflict on communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a photo-journalist, I traveled extensively throughout the country to document how the diversion of weapons and ammunition from military stocks has wrought devastation and massive human rights violations in the Eastern provinces and how unmanaged arms and ammunition still generate violence and contribute to the suffering of civilians in the so-called “peaceful” western provinces. The result of this work called "State of Arms" was awarded the “Prix Special du Jury” at the International Scoop and Journalism Festival of Angers, France, and was recently published in the weekly newspaper VSD in France. My idea was then to continue to report on these issues moving across the border into Kenya where the same unregulated weapons severely affect cross-border pastoral communities. Indeed, with a small arms death rate approaching 60 per 100,000 of the population, the Turkana region is one of the world’s most armed violence- afflicted regions; every second household has a gun and 60% of the patients in field hospitals are being treated for gunshot wounds.

What do you see when you look at these photos?
These photos could seem colorful and happy at first but for me they reveal one thing: in North Kenya, a region far away from the rest of the world, the only traces of a modern world in traditional pastoral communities are war weapons. It's a sad symbol of the effect of globalization.

What research and production did you go through to make these images?
I did these portraits in a region I didn't know before. As a follow up from my previous series 'States of Arms', I studied the diversities and differences of each region I wanted to cover. I got in touch with a lot of organizations and associations working on the subject in Kenya. I finally signed a partnership with with a Swiss organization called Swiss Arms Survey which funded the reportage and exhibited the result in Geneva end of 2011.

Do your images help the viewer understand the subject in a new way?
Weapons are the central elements of these portraits. They almost look out of context in these desolated landscapes and in comparison with the warriors, their wives, their clothes... Weapons and plastic cans seem to be the only modern products which have made it to these lost countries : the first step of globalization?

What did you learn by making these images?
It is difficult to explain in 2 lines what I've learned doing this reportage. I didn't know anything about the Turkana people before starting to study the subject. I learned everything about them, through academic researches first and then by following during 8 days. This was a very different experience than my previous documentaries in Congo where I knew the country. 

Turkana Warriors, Kenya #1
Turkana Warriors, Kenya #2
Turkana Warriors, Kenya #3
Turkana Warriors, Kenya #4


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