Every day the newspapers and magazines are full of photographs depicting war and oppression. But the life of a war photographer is also a fascinating story. For what motivates someone to be confronted with death and misery? To do your work while risking your own life, sometimes literally amidst flying bullets? Does a war photographer see it as a task to lend a voice to the oppressed of the world? Is it political engagement? Or is being a war photographer an escape from the day-to-day reality, a craving for adventure?
Black Passport is the biography of the life of war photographer Stanley Greene. It shows Greene’s war images alternated with private images. The viewer makes acquaintance with Stanley’s friends, his wife (later ex-wife), his female friends and his colleagues. Just as Greene himself, the viewer experiences being tossed to and from between the safe western life and the horrors of wars elsewhere. What effect does this work – the confrontation with horrors – have on his character? How does it influence his relationships, his loved ones and friends?
The basis of Black Passport is, in addition to the photography, a long monologue by Greene. Teun van der Heijden has put this monologue together from rough material that was the result of eight extended interviews, and is presented as a film script, in 26 short scenes. The scenes do not form a sequential story, but are a kaleidoscope of Greene’s key experiences. In the first scene, we meet him for example as an ‘au pair’ in Paris, in scene 20 he bursts into tears following the lynching of two American security officers in the Iraqi Fallujah. The bodies were then set on fire.
With the exception of one flashback, Stanley’s story is told chronologically in the book. The 26 scenes are given shape by 26 photographic portfolios, each beginning with a short monologue. These monologues are never longer than one page, so that they do not disturb the rhythm of the book. The typography is detached and serves to support the spoken character of the monologue. The editing is filmic, the layout rough as in a sketchbook. All photos are displayed on black pages.
Having started out as a fashion photographer in Paris, and after publishing a book on Paris night life, the black American photographer from New York wanted to move into the direction of documentary photography. In a time of massive changes such as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, he travelled through the former Eastern bloc and took photographs in the Caucasus. At the start of the ’90s, he thus found himself in the middle of the Chechen War, the conflict that Greene was to follow for more than ten years. It became a personal mission for him, which resulted in 2004 in the book Open Wound. It became Greene’s epos about the Chechen people and its oppression, and made his name better known among a broader audience. Greene has since documented virtually all the hot spots in the world. Stanley Greene was a long-time member of the renowned photo agency l’Agence Vu. He was one of the founders and part-owners of the photo agency NOOR.
Teun van der Heijden is a graphic designer who lives and works in Amsterdam and has been responsible for the design of the annual World Press Photo book for the last ten years. Van der Heijden has published books and other publications about and with, amongst others, James Nachtwey, Kadir van Lohuizen, Ata Kandó, Yuri Kozyrev, George Georgiou and Monique Stauder.
Van der Heijden is at his best as designer when he, together with the photographer, is allowed to tell the story. Black Passport is the ultimate example of this.
Design: Heijdens Karwei, Amsterdam
17 x 22.5 cm
Paperback with round edges, passport-like cover
288 pages with 200 pictures in full colour and duotone