Photographer Rankin focuses on Congo conflict

Photographer famous for his celebrity portraits joins with Oxfam to promote conflict awareness

Photographer Rankin, more accustomed to Britney, Kylie or Kate, has turned his lens on one of the most troubled places on earth, to celebrate the spirit in adversity of people forced to live in the Mugunga camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He travelled to the camp with studio lighting and white backgrounds used in his celebrity portraiture. Today, 32 of the images mounted on 7ft stands will be shown outside the National Theatre in London as part of an attempt by Oxfam to raise awareness of the situation in the Congo. The outdoor exhibition is called Cheka Kidogo, Swahili for laugh a little, the phrase people called out to their friends as they were photographed. The exhibition runs until December 21.

Rankin said: "I think we have become anaesthetised to traditional photographs of conflict victims. By applying my celebrity portraiture style of photography to the survivors ... I have tried to get beyond the statistics and show the human side of the conflict."

Some 17,000 people are forced to live in the sprawling Mugunga camp on the outskirts of Goma, near the border with Rwanda. "It is crazy that we hear nothing about the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Rankin. "The level of suffering there is horrendous, but it hardly makes the news. I heard awful stories of young girls being raped and people fleeing attacks on their villages.

"I felt energised by the strength of the people and their will to survive and to make their lives better. Yet they all have these really awful stories. They have seen their brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, daughters or sons killed in front of them and you can see it in their eyes."

The eastern Congo war zone is one of the deadliest in the world with more than 1 million people displaced, and more than 500,000 fleeing violence in the last year.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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