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SEEKING LIGHT by Paul Grabhorn


Portraits of Humanitarian Action in War

by Paul Grabhorn photographed by Paul Grabhorn

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0670016853
Publisher: Viking

A photographic record, often moving while difficult to take in, of the humanitarian crises of the last quarter-century.

Related to the Grabhorn family of fine printing fame, Grabhorn here documents the labors of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with which he has worked since 1992. "The ICRC," he writes, "is the only organization with the mission of preserving the dignity of people affected by war and standing up for basic principles and rules of humanitarian law." Presenting images mostly from Africa but also from the Balkans and parts of Asia and South America, Grabhorn details just what that work involves, with all the difficulties of protocol and diplomacy attendant. As he recalls of an operation in Somalia, for instance, American military planes used for convoying supplies had to accommodate unarmed personnel, while the ICRC had to allow an armed escort of the convoys. There are hopeful signs to be seen in the cornucopia of goods that the ICRC has been able to muster in its relief expeditions, as well as in the grateful faces of those served; these are tempered by the grimness of Grabhorn's photographs of such things as surgical operations in the field. The photographs, documentary in nature, seldom attain the luminousness of art, but some stand out above others: a Chechen soldier gazing with suspicious weariness into the lens; a page of handwritten Arabic script, threatened by Islamic fundamentalists, trembling in the desert wind there. The best of those images show that life goes on even in the face of horror, as Tuareg women sing and children in Sarajevo draw clean water.

A more circumstantial text would have been welcome, but Grabhorn's photographs lend urgency to the ICRC’s important missions.