Australian journalist captures Pacific conflict through photography
A photojournalist has captured conflict and challenges in the Pacific through black and white photography.
A photojournalist based in Vanuatu has released a book documenting his work in Melanesia after spending more than two decades capturing the lives and customs of people across the Pacific.
Ben Bohane’s new book “The Black Islands: Spirit and War in Melanesia” features a small collection of his work which looks at conflict and spiritual tradition that exists in this region as well as the role of cults and customs.
The Black Islands literally means Melanesia and the book features photographs in black and whites.
“My interest is to continue that documentary tradition of black and white reportage and I thought it also acted as a interesting counterpoint to the way we normally visualise the Pacific,” he said.
“We’re so used to seeing the Pacific rendered in colour, with beautiful, happy shiny people with hibiscus flowers tucked behind their ear.”
Mr Bohane told Pacific Beat he hopes the black and white images will get people to think of the significant challenges the region faces.
“(It) takes you on a journey that’s certainly more mindful and hints at some of the larger issues confronting this region,” he said.
“It’s not all about tropical sunsets and white sandy beaches. It’s also about the people and the culture and the challenges that they face and they way they are navigating into the modern world.
“I am hoping people won’t see the book as necessarily about conflict… but I thought it was important to give face to a lot of the struggles that are going on and sort of represent some of these guerrilla groups that have been fighting for independence in places like East Timor and West Papua and Bougainville.”
Mr Bohane recounted some of his more memorable trips in the Pacific where he captured some poignant images.
“Maybe the most amazing trip done in the last twenty years was moving with central command of the OPM (Free Papua Movement) in West Papua, moving through a very primordial landscape and with basically a group of bow and arrow fighters taking on the Indonesia military,” he said.
“I found myself with a group of people who had very little contact with the outside world”
Another memorable moment for Mr Bohane was when he was moving with the Bougainville resistance force after the Bougainville revolutionary army shot dead a boy in a village that he was staying in.
“I managed to capture a photo standing behind this guy with a helmet that had ‘cultist land’ graffitied on the back of the helmet,” he said.
“In the image, you have graffiti on the guy’s helmet and the explosion of the grenade in the front.
“It seem to sum up some of this nexus with some of these cults and spiritual traditions and the nature of conflict in the region.”
Mr Bohane, an Australian based in Port Vila, has been covering conflicts in Bougainville and Solomon Islands as well as ‘kastom’ and cargo cult movements in the region, with his work appearing in Vanity Fair, Time and Newsweek publications.