Elliott Verdier reflects on the unsaid histories of national trauma

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In his new monograph, Reaching for Dawn , the photographer travels across Liberia, recording a population living in the aftermath of civil war

The very first time French photographer Elliott Verdier travelled to Liberia — a west African nation bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire — he left his camera behind. “It was 2018, and I was documenting conflicts beyond global headlines, ” he remembers. “Liberia acquired just elected a new president. I went [to the country] without my camera so that I could mentally photograph all the images I wanted to consider. I didn’t want the images to just look like our idea of modern conflict, and also to do that, I had to move previous photographing images I had already seen. ”

​​Verdier’s 2nd monograph Reaching regarding Dawn , published by Dunes Editions, documents the uneasy silence across Liberia following two bloody civil wars in 1989-1997 — when Charles Taylor directed an uprising against Us president Samuel Doe — plus 1999-2003 when two brand new rebel groups emerged. The particular fighting claimed approximately 300, 000 lives, and thousands more were mutilated plus raped. Recruiting child troops was also widespread. However , the majority of those responsible for the atrocities have never been held in order to account, further complicating the particular country’s capacity for collective memory. “There are no ancient monuments, no conversations, no commemorative days of remembrance, ” Verdier says. “When night falls and the day is over, there is silence; everyone is left to their memories, but nothing is said. ”

© Elliott Verdier.

Verdier photographed Reaching intended for Dawn over two vacations in 2019. He journeyed across Liberia from the platinum and diamond mines of Gbarpolu County to the Slot of Harper and the slums of townships such as West Point, Monrovia. In the syndication, the Liberian landscape rests between portraits overlaid along with quotes — seven from victims of the war plus seven from those who perpetrated it. “I found personally having deep and difficult interactions about war-caused trauma, ” he says. “The subjects I actually photographed were eager to break their silence. There is a real stillness around what offers happened, but I think the truth I’m an outsider allowed them to comfortably open up and reach out. ”

Verdier’s procedure derives from empathy and awareness. He used the large-format camera, the size of which meant “there were zero secrets. I was forced to be aware of each choice, ” he says. “Liberians are sensitive regarding their image, but this kind of obvious camera helped — I had nothing to hide. ”

© Elliott Verdier.

© Elliott Verdier.

© Elliott Verdier.

Verdier wants to distance themselves from the long, uncomfortable great western photojournalism — a single he describes as “photographic ethics of another time”. He says that trauma — national and individual — requires a receptacle: a concrete phenomenon on which to focus. With no this, Liberia cannot process its grief, understand it or move on. For Verdier, the role of the photographer is not simply to document but to be a part of this healing — an approach he considers “the basics” of issue photography.  

Ultimately, Achieving for Dawn hopes to be part of Liberia’s memory — a receptacle of its previous and possible futures. With no truth or reconciliation, Verdier fears the dark possibility of history repeating itself: “Perpetrators still neighbour their victims and those in power do not have a strong desire to face the matter. I fear where this can leave the nation. ” 

© Elliott Verdier.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography within October 2020, where he happens to be the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied the BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.

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