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Matinee: Sebastian Rich Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

20 August 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 149th in our series of Saturday matinees today: two short interviews with Sebastian Rich, who has been photographing in war zones for over four decades and is now in South Sudan on assignment for UNICEF.

During his career, Rich has photographed every major conflict including El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, the Gulf, Bosnia, Palestine and Iraq. He has been wounded several times, kidnapped and held hostage while on assignment in Beirut.

Here's the most recent interview, conducted by the PBS NewsHour's John Yang yesterday:

It's a pretty bleak portrait of the cost of war on a nation's children. A quarter million children in South Sudan are suffering from acute malnutrition, he reports. And more are suffering malnutrition that is not acute.

So, what's happened is that the children who were actually starting to recover from severe acute malnutrition before this recent fighting, when the fighting happened, those children couldn't come back to the hospitals to get their follow-up treatment and children that had started to get malnutrition couldn't get to the hospitals either.

Despite the challenge, some do recover. Rich tells the story of a girl he photographed on a previous trip who was "a tiny little stick insect."

And I stayed with her for a couple of weeks. And she got a bit better and bit better. And, today, six months later, when I came back, I photographed her and filmed her with her family, singing and dancing to tunes on my iPhone.

But the photographer is blunt about the situation.

Children will die. I mean, I don't see how you can sugarcoat it. If you don't get treated for severe acute malnutrition, you will die. It's not only malnutrition. There's complications with malnutrition. A lot of these children have on top of that tuberculosis and malaria.

And here is the second interview, by the BBC's Laura Trevelyan in 2013. Which could have been yesterday:

This interview was done on the occasion of Rich's exhibit Broken Lives, depicting the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan and the plight of children in South Sudan at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 2013.

On the occasion of that exhibit, Rich said:

A refugee is no different from you and me and we tend to forget that refugees are just that -- humans sharing the same world as us. The one enduring quality that has shone through in all my images in both camps is the dignity and pride of its inhabitants that is often very humbling.

Their suffering has not lessened since 2013, but neither has their dignity, as Rich's images in these two video clips and on his site demonstrate.

In Do You Care More About a Dog Than a Refugee?, N.Y. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reflected on the empathy readers had for the loss of his dog while, at the same time, showing a lack of it when it came to Syrian refugees.

"But, in fact," he wrote, "as even dogs know, a human is a human."

He wonders "what would happen if Aleppo were full of golden retrievers, if we could see barrel bombs maiming helpless, innocent puppies" before arguing that "not only do all human lives have value, but also that a human's life is worth every bit as much as a golden retriever's."

It takes someone like Rich, though, to show us what is really going on in what we call "conflict zones." To make us wonder what price the world will pay to raise a generation of children who have no education, who have been serenaded by bombs, who have been fed disease and comforted only by death.

We are reminded of a very short poem by Kenneth Patchen:

Wide, Wide in the Rose's Side

Wide, wide in the rose's side
Sleeps a child without sin,
And any man who loves in this world
Stands here on guard over him.

Sebastian Rich is clearly "a man who loves in this world" and who stands, with his camera, on guard over the innocents so many of us find harder to love as much as a dog.

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