By Laura Hamilton
My first exposure to the work of Gervasio Sanchez was his exhibition, Antologia, in Madrid last year. Exhibited in an old warehouse, his photographs were made even more haunting by their surroundings. In his work, he captures the human aspect to war – depicting people both during and after conflict has ended.
Although I had never heard of him before I lived in Spain, he is one of Spain’s biggest war photojournalists, winning various prizes over the years and covering many major conflicts: from Central America to Lusophone Africa to Eastern Europe and various other places in between. He has also focused on more specialist issues, such as the desaparecidos in Latin America; the people who ‘disappeared’ during conflicts and their families do not know what happened to them. Through this focus he raises awareness of problems that are frequently ignored post-conflict by broadcasting them to the outside world.
My experience in Madrid led me to want to see more of his work, to learn more about what he had done and where he had been. Pasión y Memoria (Passion and Memory) stood out to me since it is not only readily available, but it also featured a selection of his work, rather than focusing on one specific conflict. Published as part of the PhotoBolsillo series, which focuses on Spain’s most important photographers, it contains an introduction by Sandra Balsells, a fellow photojournalist. Following this, each image in the book has a simple caption, explaining where the photograph was taken and the year. Portraying everything from victims of mines in Mozambique, to child soldiers in Peru, this small book of black and white images allows you to travel with him through his experiences and see conflicts through his eyes. The photographs depict emotions and people’s experiences of conflict. Although I am not familiar with the work of many war photojournalists, I know that his work makes me feel as if I am able to see a side of conflict that is frequently forgotten in newspaper reports.
Many of his images feature children and highlight their resilience after conflict. For me, one of the most powerful images is No. 42. The image features two young boys in Panama, hanging off the skeletal remains of a building after the invasion in 1991. If you were to replace their surroundings, it would look no different to a photograph of children playing on a climbing frame. However, their smiles contrast with the bombed out remains that surround them, a reminder of the warzone where the image was captured. Yet they are still playing games, swinging off posts and appearing to be in a race with one another. Whereas many war photojournalists only capture the misery of war, this photo, along with many of Gervasio Sanchez’s other images, shows the hope that still exists after a conflict.
I would recommend this book as a starting point for Sanchez’s work. Although the photo captions are written in Spanish, the introduction, which gives an overview of his career, is provided in both English and Spanish. Nonetheless, the images themselves are powerful enough that they need no words to explain them.