Friday, 3 June 2011

Ratko Mladic stirs memories of the Past

Watching Gen Ratko Mladic make his first appearance in court on television this evening stirred some unwanted memories. I saw for myself the destruction of Sarajevo and the fighting between Bosnian Muslims and Croats - houses burning, graves, the mercenaries and much, much worse.

Quite by chance, as I was scanning a collection of cemetery snaps that had arrived from America, I opened a battered wallet of photographs. It had a sticky label on it, marked Bosnia 10. I remembered that  I had taken hundreds of Kodachrome transparencies and even more 35mm negatives recording what I saw. They sit in the attic waiting to be looked at.

Here are few of my images. These are just snapshots and not my best work, but they do illustrate a little of the massive destruction that took place. Remember to click once on the photos, and then again, for a really close up view. I used to describe such snaps as record or evidential shots. Think of them as a rare glimpse into one of my previous lives!

Not wishing to bore you, I will recount just one tale of the inhumane acts that took place in the conflict. The second image shows an overgrown garden in front of a wrecked house. It reminded me of an incident that affected me greatly.

I recall being driven up country from Gorni Vakuf. On the outskirts of the town, a woman was hanging up her washing on a line in the garden that surrounded her home. Her toddlers played by her feet. When I came back from the front two weeks later, I was shocked to see that the house had been torched and there was one freshly dug adult grave and two smaller child-sized graves on the lawn. The washing still hung from the line. I passed that way six months later and the washing still waved in the breeze, albeit faded by the sun and in rags. There were red roses in bloom by the front door. The memory still troubles me still . . .

As I clutch my trusty Canon T90 camera, behind me is a large hole blown in a bridge. Such immense damage

A little overgrown, but the shape of the garden still exists

Ruin after Ruin

Street after Street

A striking example of the ferocity of the fighting. Riddled by bullet after bullet!
A grave in an abandoned village cemetery. This person is probably of Serb descent as the headstone is undamaged

Not like the grave on the right which has seen it's headstone smashed by the occupiers


  1. I'm stunned by the lacework done by bullets. And that story is horribly haunting. I try to not fathom it.

  2. The story is a haunting one that made my stomach turn.

    I'm sorry that it sticks with you. But I'm not sorry that you remember the woman and her little children, years after they are gone. I'm glad they resides in some one's memory. I just hope that you can find a way to honor them, by one day turning it into a nice memory!

  3. Horrific. We didn't see this war so "up front and personal." You look like a soldier!
    These photos make me think of the accounts of the last Armenian genocide. Especially the way the Muslum graves were left intact and the Christian ones were destroyed.
    "When will we ever learn...?"

  4. TAL, the lacework is pretty stunning, as you say!

    Thanks, Joanna, Maybe I'll paint the scene one day.

    Hi Margaret, The Armenian genocide was appalling, by all accounts I have read and doesn't, in my opinion, get the remembrance it deserves . . . I may have looked like a soldier, but I was most certainly a civilian! But I was in the very privileged position of living and working alongside the troops and going out on patrol with them. A real experience, I can tell you!

  5. This story has stayed with me all day. The mention of painting resonated with me and I think I may try an illustration of this haunting tale. I don't know how anybody can recover from such scenes.

  6. May I ask if you were there as an official photographer?

  7. Hi Rosie, I was there as a feature writer for a magazine. I have taken photographs for many years. In Bosnia, I carried one SLR. In the first Gulf War, I carried two cameras with me - one colour and one monochrome. Now, of course, with a digital SLR, you could do it all with one. In the first Gulf War, I shot 3,000 colour slides. With all my graveyard photography, my collection has grown even more - look up Creating Pictures In My Mind on Flickr to see some of my other stuff. I have just checked iPhoto on my macbook pro laptop upon which I am typing this. There are 22,000 photos stored on it!

  8. A serious amount of photos! I have seen the Flickr collection...some of it.