New Publication: “Messiness in Photography, War and Transitions to Peace” with Media, War & Conflict

In our new article “Messiness in Photography, War and Transitions to Peace – Revisiting Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace,” we take a closer look at an interactive photography project published in the New York Times on the Web in 1996, Fred Ritchin and Gilles Peress’s project Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace.

During and after the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, Bosnia was a laboratory for new photographic approaches to war, violence, and civilian suffering. These new approaches included aftermath photography, forensic photography, and participatory photography as well as post-conflict and peace photography.

Among these approaches, Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace emphasized interpretive openness, plurality of meaning, narrative non-linearity, and audience interaction. By so doing, the project redefined as merits what photojournalism had formerly regarded as liabilities.

Focusing on two different locations in Sarajevo, Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace convincingly represented the ongoing conflict’s multilayeredness and the vicissitudes of the transition to peace: on the day-to-day level, ambivalence ruled and alliances shifted; chaos, confusion, and unpredictability prevailed.

The project’s users experience the conflict’s messiness through the website’s overall organization which inhibits easy orientation thus reproducing the conflict’s disorder. Especially in the grids, non-sequitur panel-to-panel transitions illustrate the conflict’s lack of sense, traditionally understood. The project is an important precursor to current war photography aiming to adequately represent the messiness of violent conflict rather than reducing it to simple but misleading narratives.

The project’s title – Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace – is certainly as relevant today as it was in 1996, given the fragility of the peace process, the institutionalization of uncertainty in Bosnia over the last 25 years, current threats to both the formal-institutional arrangements agreed upon in Dayton and Bosnia’s territorial integrity, and the continuing discussion of photography’s purpose, politics, and overall relevance in (post-)conflict settings.

Our article “Messiness in Photography, War and Transitions to Peace – Revisiting Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace” appears in Media, War and Conflict, a major peer-reviewed academic journal published by Sage Publications that covers the intersection of international relations and media studies.

The publication coincides with the 30-years commemoration, in 2022, of the siege of Sarajevo which started in 1992.

The open-access OnlineFirst version of the article can be accessed here.