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  • As someone who has spent his entire career trying to be invisible,

  • standing in front of an audience is a cross between

  • an out-of-body experience and a deer caught in the headlights,

  • so please forgive me for violating one of the TED commandments

  • by relying on words on paper,

  • and I only hope I'm not struck by lightning bolts before I'm done.

  • I'd like to begin by talking about some of the ideas that motivated me

  • to become a documentary photographer.

  • I was a student in the '60s, a time of social upheaval and questioning,

  • and on a personal level, an awakening sense of idealism.

  • The war in Vietnam was raging;

  • the Civil Rights Movement was under way;

  • and pictures had a powerful influence on me.

  • Our political and military leaders were telling us one thing,

  • and photographers were telling us another.

  • I believed the photographers, and so did millions of other Americans.

  • Their images fueled resistance to the war and to racism.

  • They not only recorded history; they helped change the course of history.

  • Their pictures became part of our collective consciousness

  • and, as consciousness evolved into a shared sense of conscience,

  • change became not only possible, but inevitable.

  • I saw that the free flow of information represented by journalism,

  • specifically visual journalism, can bring into focus

  • both the benefits and the cost of political policies.

  • It can give credit to sound decision-making, adding momentum to success.

  • In the face of poor political judgment or political inaction,

  • it becomes a kind of intervention, assessing the damage

  • and asking us to reassess our behavior.

  • It puts a human face on issues

  • which from afar can appear abstract

  • or ideological or monumental in their global impact.

  • What happens at ground level, far from the halls of power,

  • happens to ordinary citizens one by one.

  • And I understood that documentary photography

  • has the ability to interpret events from their point of view.

  • It gives a voice to those who otherwise would not have a voice.

  • And as a reaction, it stimulates public opinion

  • and gives impetus to public debate,

  • thereby preventing the interested parties

  • from totally controlling the agenda, much as they would like to.

  • Coming of age in those days made real

  • the concept that the free flow of information is absolutely vital

  • for a free and dynamic society to function properly.

  • The press is certainly a business, and in order to survive

  • it must be a successful business,

  • but the right balance must be found

  • between marketing considerations and journalistic responsibility.

  • Society's problems can't be solved until they're identified.

  • On a higher plane, the press is a service industry,

  • and the service it provides is awareness.

  • Every story does not have to sell something.

  • There's also a time to give.

  • That was a tradition I wanted to follow.

  • Seeing the war created such incredibly high stakes for everyone involved

  • and that visual journalism could actually become a factor in conflict resolution --

  • I wanted to be a photographer in order to be a war photographer.

  • But I was driven by an inherent sense

  • that a picture that revealed the true face of war

  • would almost by definition be an anti-war photograph.

  • I'd like to take you on a visual journey through some of the events

  • and issues I've been involved in over the past 25 years.

  • In 1981, I went to Northern Ireland.

  • 10 IRA prisoners were in the process of starving themselves to death

  • in protest against conditions in jail.

  • The reaction on the streets was violent confrontation.

  • I saw that the front lines of contemporary wars

  • are not on isolated battlefields, but right where people live.

  • During the early '80s, I spent a lot of time in Central America,

  • which was engulfed by civil wars

  • that straddled the ideological divide of the Cold War.

  • In Guatemala, the central government --

  • controlled by a oligarchy of European decent --

  • was waging a scorched Earth campaign against an indigenous rebellion,

  • and I saw an image that reflected the history of Latin America:

  • conquest through a combination of the Bible and the sword.

  • An anti-Sandinista guerrilla was mortally wounded

  • as Commander Zero attacked a town in Southern Nicaragua.

  • A destroyed tank belonging to Somoza's national guard

  • was left as a monument in a park in Managua,

  • and was transformed by the energy and spirit of a child.

  • At the same time, a civil war was taking place in El Salvador,

  • and again, the civilian population was caught up in the conflict.

  • I've been covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since 1981.

  • This is a moment from the beginning of the second intifada, in 2000,

  • when it was still stones and Molotovs against an army.

  • In 2001, the uprising escalated into an armed conflict,

  • and one of the major incidents was

  • the destruction of the Palestinian refugee camp

  • in the West Bank town of Jenin.

  • Without the political will to find common ground,

  • the continual friction of tactic and counter-tactic

  • only creates suspicion and hatred and vengeance,

  • and perpetuates the cycle of violence.

  • In the '90s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union,

  • Yugoslavia fractured along ethnic fault lines, and civil war broke out

  • between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

  • This is a scene of house-to-house fighting in Mostar,

  • neighbor against neighbor.

  • A bedroom, the place where people share intimacy,

  • where life itself is conceived, became a battlefield.

  • A mosque in northern Bosnia was destroyed by Serbian artillery

  • and was used as a makeshift morgue.

  • Dead Serbian soldiers were collected after a battle

  • and used as barter for the return of prisoners

  • or Bosnian soldiers killed in action.

  • This was once a park.

  • The Bosnian soldier who guided me

  • told me that all of his friends were there now.

  • At the same time in South Africa,

  • after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison,

  • the black population commenced the final phase

  • of liberation from apartheid.

  • One of the things I had to learn as a journalist

  • was what to do with my anger.

  • I had to use it, channel its energy, turn it into something

  • that would clarify my vision, instead of clouding it.

  • In Transkei, I witnessed a rite of passage into manhood, of the Xhosa tribe.

  • Teenage boys lived in isolation, their bodies covered with white clay.

  • After several weeks, they washed off the white

  • and took on the full responsibilities of men.

  • It was a very old ritual that seemed symbolic

  • of the political struggle that was changing the face of South Africa.

  • Children in Soweto playing on a trampoline.

  • Elsewhere in Africa there was famine.

  • In Somalia, the central government collapsed and clan warfare broke out.

  • Farmers were driven off their land,

  • and crops and livestock were destroyed or stolen.

  • Starvation was being used as a weapon of mass destruction --

  • primitive but extremely effective.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people were exterminated,

  • slowly and painfully.

  • The international community responded with massive humanitarian relief,

  • and hundreds of thousands of more lives were saved.

  • American troops were sent to protect the relief shipments,

  • but they were eventually drawn into the conflict,

  • and after the tragic battle in Mogadishu, they were withdrawn.

  • In southern Sudan, another civil war saw similar use of starvation

  • as a means of genocide.

  • Again, international NGOs, united under the umbrella of the U.N.,

  • staged a massive relief operation and thousands of lives were saved.

  • I'm a witness, and I want my testimony to be honest and uncensored.

  • I also want it to be powerful and eloquent,

  • and to do as much justice as possible

  • to the experience of the people I'm photographing.

  • This man was in an NGO feeding center,

  • being helped as much as he could be helped.

  • He literally had nothing. He was a virtual skeleton,

  • yet he could still summon the courage and the will to move.

  • He had not given up, and if he didn't give up,

  • how could anyone in the outside world ever dream of losing hope?

  • In 1994, after three months of covering the South African election,

  • I saw the inauguration of Nelson Mandela,

  • and it was the most uplifting thing I've ever seen.

  • It exemplified the best that humanity has to offer.

  • The next day I left for Rwanda,

  • and it was like taking the express elevator to hell.

  • This man had just been liberated from a Hutu death camp.

  • He allowed me to photograph him for quite a long time,

  • and he even turned his face toward the light,

  • as if he wanted me to see him better.

  • I think he knew what the scars on his face would say to the rest of the world.

  • This time, maybe confused or discouraged

  • by the military disaster in Somalia,

  • the international community remained silent,

  • and somewhere around 800,000 people were slaughtered

  • by their own countrymen -- sometimes their own neighbors --

  • using farm implements as weapons.

  • Perhaps because a lesson had been learned

  • by the weak response to the war in Bosnia

  • and the failure in Rwanda,

  • when Serbia attacked Kosovo,

  • international action was taken much more decisively.

  • NATO forces went in, and the Serbian army withdrew.

  • Ethnic Albanians had been murdered,

  • their farms destroyed and a huge number of people forcibly deported.

  • They were received in refugee camps

  • set up by NGOs in Albania and Macedonia.

  • The imprint of a man who had been burned inside his own home.

  • The image reminded me of a cave painting,

  • and echoed how primitive we still are in so many ways.

  • Between 1995 and '96, I covered the first two wars

  • in Chechnya from inside Grozny.

  • This is a Chechen rebel on the front line against the Russian army.

  • The Russians bombarded Grozny constantly for weeks,

  • killing mainly the civilians who were still trapped inside.

  • I found a boy from the local orphanage

  • wandering around the front line.

  • My work has evolved from being concerned mainly with war

  • to a focus on critical social issues as well.

  • After the fall of Ceausescu, I went to Romania

  • and discovered a kind of gulag of children,

  • where thousands of orphans were being kept in medieval conditions.

  • Ceausescu had imposed a quota

  • on the number of children to be produced by each family,

  • thereby making women's bodies an instrument of state economic policy.

  • Children who couldn't be supported by their families

  • were raised in government orphanages.

  • Children with birth defects were labeled incurables,

  • and confined for life to inhuman conditions.

  • As reports began to surface, again international aid went in.

  • Going deeper into the legacy of the Eastern European regimes,

  • I worked for several months on a story about the effects of industrial pollution,

  • where there had been no regard for the environment

  • or the health of either workers or the general population.

  • An aluminum factory in Czechoslovakia

  • was filled with carcinogenic smoke and dust,

  • and four out of five workers came down with cancer.

  • After the fall of Suharto in Indonesia,

  • I began to explore conditions of poverty

  • in a country that was on its way towards modernization.

  • I spent a good deal of time with a man

  • who lived with his family on a railway embankment

  • and had lost an arm and a leg in a train accident.

  • When the story was published, unsolicited donations poured in.

  • A trust fund was established,

  • and the family now lives in a house in the countryside

  • and all their basic necessities are taken care of.

  • It was a story that wasn't trying to sell anything.

  • Journalism had provided a channel

  • for people's natural sense of generosity, and the readers responded.

  • I met a band of homeless children who'd come to Jakarta from the countryside,

  • and ended up living in a train station.

  • By the age of 12 or 14, they'd become beggars and drug addicts.

  • The rural poor had become the urban poor,

  • and in the process, they'd become invisible.

  • These heroin addicts in detox in Pakistan

  • reminded me of figures in a play by Beckett:

  • isolated, waiting in the dark, but drawn to the light.

  • Agent Orange was a defoliant used during the Vietnam War

  • to deny cover to the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army.

  • The active ingredient was dioxin, an extremely toxic chemical

  • that was sprayed in vast quantities,

  • and whose effects passed through the genes to the next generation.

  • In 2000, I began documenting global health issues,

  • concentrating first on AIDS in Africa.

  • I tried to tell the story through the work of caregivers.

  • I thought it was important to emphasize that people were being helped,

  • whether by international NGOs or by local grassroots organizations.

  • So many children have been orphaned by the epidemic

  • that grandmothers have taken the place of parents,

  • and a lot of children had been born with HIV.

  • A hospital in Zambia.

  • I began documenting the close connection

  • between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

  • This is an MSF hospital in Cambodia.