SOME/TALK: DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER 'STEPHEN DUPONT'
Stephen Dupont is an Australian photographer that is documenting our world. Influenced by Don McCullin’s haunting images of Vietnam and Bob Conolly’s documentary ‘’ Black Harvest’’. Stephen explores the human condition and conflict areas in dangerous countries. Giving us a wake up call to the reality of life in war and capturing the human spirit and all its dignity, struggle and inhumanity. His work demands you to take the time to meditate on his years of hard and remarkable work. We spoke about his time in Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and his influences.
First, I know you as the photographer that explores the human condition and visits conflict areas, how and when did this become your focus?
Maybe it had something to do with my growing up with both parents working as social workers and having spent much of my childhood around displacement and dysfunctional youth. It really all began when I saw the photographs of some photographers early on as I was starting to take an interest in becoming a photographer myself. I first saw the haunting images of Vietnam by Don McCullin which really had a massive influence and impact on my desire to throw myself into conflict zones. Then came W.Eugene Smith, Larry Burrows, Capa and Salgado. I saw in each of these photographers a real sense of compassion and humanity in what and how they captured their subjects. I would of been around 21 years old and all I wanted to do was shoot B+W photo essays and capture the human spirit and all its dignity, struggle and inhumanity.
I'm a refugee from Iran and my family fled to Europe in the 90's, I can relate to refugees when they come on the news. After visiting conflict areas in Afghanistan, how has this impacted your understanding of the struggle that refugees face?
I have spent so much time in refugee camps both in and out of Afghanistan. The human struggle of Afghan refugees is just beyond belief and sickens and saddens me to the bones. Afghanistan is a poor and harsh country even if you’re not a refugee. The bitter cold and dry desert landscape offers no relief to these traumatised individuals, not to mention the huge human cost of the ongoing wars. I always feel like an outsider looking in with my cameras and I know my pictures will not cure the suffering, but I do hope that they are testament to the suffering and act as a kind of voice for the people of Afghanistan. No matter what I can come and go back to my safe home in Australia and I am constantly swept away with sadness and guilt of what I have witnessed. It’s always a wake up call to the reality of life in war.
How would you describe the ''human condition of war'' in one sentence?
The humanity and inhumanity caused by war and social injustice.
What was the reason you decided to visit Papua New Guinea and focus on urban gangsters? Were you already familiair with the street gang culture there?
I had friends who were covering stories there and what they showed me just literally blew me away. Papua New Guinea is the closest country to Australia where I come from and I had not been there. It just seemed like the wildest and most unexpected place. Bob Conolly’s documentary “Black Harvest” was also an inspiration. I just had to go and see for myself this insane country. I knew about the raskols before I first went over and it was that story that became my first major focus on PNG. I spent a lot of time with one gang in Port Moresby after earning their trust and I made a series of Polaroid portraits of each gang member. This access gave me a real insight into the darker side of PNG society and a window inside the struggles of city people and the customs and tribal traditions that inhabit every person there.
How did you receive access to the Raskol community and earn the trust from the members of ''Kips Kaboni'' ?
I stumbled into a tribal war that had just erupted inside Kaugere Settlement. There was the aftermath of buildings burnt to the ground and tress across roads. There was a tense standoff following the murder of a Motu lady by a Highlander man. As I walked unannounced into the settlement I started to make pictures of the standoff and scenes while hearing the stories of what had gone down. It was then I met the leader of the Kips Kaboni gang Alan Omaro. We got on immediately and I asked him if I could make photographs of his gang. He thought it was both honourable and crazy that I had come into his settlement. Without his blessing, I would of never taken those pictures.
Most street gangs adapt aspects from tribal culture, to distinct their self from other gangs and to obtain a recognizable identity, are you able to recognize a ''Kips Kaboni'' member and not confuse them with the other gangs inside the Raskol community?
Not really, most gangs in Port Moresby look similar, they do have their distinct graffiti that you see inside the settlements that make each gang unique. Individually though each one looks similar, all adopting a mix of US gang culture, reggae and their own tribal customs.
In one of your interviews you mentioned that you capture the dark side of society. Would you be interested in capturing the dark side of society in first world countries?
Of course, I think with anything I could capture there is my photography style which I think leans toward the darker more gritty side of representation and feeling.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I am going to print with Gerhard Steidl my 20 year Afghanistan retrospective called “Generation AK: The Afghanistan Wars 1993 - 2012”. I am working as well on a 25 year survey of my work and a kind of monograph of photographs. I’ll also be writing a biographical book of selected essays and writings from my life.