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A picture is worth a thousand words. Only when adding the full story, it makes it priceless.

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

Summer 2020, visiting the WWII Memorial Museum in Caen, Normandy, France. I am buying the tickets. The cashier tells me “quick the conference by war reporter Patrick Chauvel is about to start.” I grab my husband and my two teenage girls still carried away by the energy of anticipation.

At that time, I have no idea what to expect.

I have no idea of the true nature of a war reporter's work.

I have never before heard the name Patrick Chauvel.

I have no idea how profoundly this encounter is going to impact me.

Patrick Chauvet - war reporter
Patrick Chauvet - rapporteur de guerre - at Memorial Museum Caen

The journalist invited our small group to browse through his exhibited photos. Patrick Chauvel took each of them over a span of 50 years, from wars across the Globe. One of Patrick’s first jobs as a photographer was to spend time with the US Army in Vietnam in 1969. He was 20 years old. It is here that the questions began.

Each photo had a before and after story, a context, a smiling anecdote, or gruesome details.

More than a reporter, Patrick Chauvel is passionate and dedicated to his life purpose. His obsession is to always get closer to what is happening in the world and to the world.

He should have died a hundred times, wounded on many occasions. He has been abducted, sentenced to death facing a firing squad, and nearly drowned with boat people in Haiti. He is a true adventurer. A news knight, looking to illustrate the stories of the ones who cannot and will not have a voice.

His pictures grab your attention. This exhibition made me realize how important are the full stories behind each illustration.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Only when adding the full story, it makes it priceless.

Published by CNN, Times, Newsweek, and other international media alike; Patrick's pictures hold half of a century of the worse side of humanity. Here are the ones that triggered a lot of emotions.

Vietnam Picture 1969 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

A plumber and a high school teenager from the Bronx.

A couple of hours after this picture was shot these two Americans died. Many soldiers disappeared not just in combat. The might of the tropical jungle took care of them: mortal snakes and spider bites, rotten fingers, and toes.

Interestingly, the resilience process of the ones who came back was shattered by the lack of recognition from the USA.

It was never a war, their mourning never acknowledged. The trauma stayed stagnant, deteriorating the resilience process of its survivors.

Mozambique 1973 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

A Portuguese army soldier stands in the field in Mozambique.

War also brings lifelong friendships.

Today, the same man who is now 70 years old, has swapped his combat gun for a garden spade.

Patrick weaved strong bonds with some of his subjects and kept contact with them over the years.

Cambodia 1974 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

A Cambodian soldier rescues his wife following an ambush on a lorry carrying soldiers’ wives and ammunition.

“Not a lot of women in your picture!”

After my comment, Patrick led me to this picture. In the war with the Khmer Rouge, soldiers had their wives and children follow the war squadron to take care of the logistics (understand: food, medical support, ammunition, uniform maintenance, etc).

Here the Khmer Rouge ambushed the support of the soldiers in order to destroy the supplies as well as their morale.

Northern Ireland 1972 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

Two members of the IRA searching a man at the boundary between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.

After the wounded Cambodian wife, these are the only women carrying weapons in his exhibition.

“This could be a good shot for the #MeToo movement,” says Patrick jokingly.

Lebanon 1984 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

Soldier (Christian) with the Lebanese Army firing on militia forces (Muslim) in the center of Beirut. A cat is seen fleeing the fighting.

The US Newspaper who paid for that shot was warned by Patrick that something moved and crossed the scene while he was shooting and impregnated his argentic film.

While developing the film, the cat revealed itself. The chief editor made a huge print of that photo and hung it in his office.

Later on, he told Patrick, who asked him why he picked that photo: “I feel like the cat. I want to run away too! ”

Capturing something universal speaks volumes.

Patrick used to go to a war location for 3 weeks with 3 argentic rolls of film, each with 36 pictures. Now his equipment is fully digitalized.

Chechnya, 1995 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

Young Chechen fighter.

Actually, it might not be a fighter, it could be a messenger. For messages and ammunition to be distributed; the Chechen Army sent 5 teenagers to the same destination.

Hoping that the Russian will not kill all 5 of them.

Patrick was adamant that it was the toughest combat he had witnessed. The Russians were relentlessly & methodologically killing, burning, & destroying everything.

San Salvador, 1980 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

A fighter of the FMLN responding to shooting on the crowd at the funeral of Archbishop Romero who was shot dead by the far right.

The man kneeling, pointing his gun to the left was a couple of seconds before pointing his gun at Patrick Chauvel himself. The far-right activists positioned on the roofs of the surrounding buildings started to shoot at the crowd composed of over 4’000 terrified peasants.

There are shoes scattered everywhere! Just as Patrick was wondering why after a panic there are so many shoes lying around on the ground. Here is the science behind it. Your Limbic system (the one that triggers the Freeze, Flight or Fight response) is responsible for it. The Freeze state is the most common one after an unexpected danger arises. This Limbic response makes you contract every single muscle in your body. The consequence is that you may shrink your feet down by 2 sizes…and lose your shoes while fleeing away!

Iran, 1980 - Exhibition Patrick Chauvel

The Ayatollah Khomeini coup against the Iran Shah.

The Americans thought that by supporting Ayatollah Khomeini, they will suppress the rise of communism. This was the first time that the Muslim religion started to have bad press and darken its reputation in the western world.

Here Army soldiers are dancing to intimidate the population. Bizarre shadows of a peculiar choreography.

8 more facts about being a war reporter:

  • In a war zone, there is one common denominator: only the youngest men are sent, never the leaders who trigger it!

  • In a war zone, there are currently fewer fatalities due to the fact that the technology being used is much more precise

  • In a war zone, Social media and civilian video posting are causing major headaches to army strategists.

  • In some war zones, journalists will have to wear a soldier's uniform not to be shot by the country for which they are reporting. In action, they could be confused with the enemy and in war zones time to think is rarely a privilege you have.

  • In a war zone, journalists are welcome, the victims are aware of their role to report and tell the story that they cannot and will not voice or tell.

  • In a war zone, journalists can be shot, abducted, tortured

  • In a war zone, journalists need to be able to perform rudimentary medical procedures to save their own lives and the ones of others as well.

  • In a war zone, everybody has a very precise role. Journalists are not mere voyeurs. Their job is to inform and report. When there are casualties and fatalities around them – there are others taking care of these cases. Saving lives is not their role. Recording historical events are.

It was tough to stop asking questions. Listening with a mask on (Second wave of Covid19!), missing a huge amount of information on what is not being told. What I could read though is Patrick’s hands were sometimes shaking a bit more for some pictures, particularly the ones in Chechnya. Perhaps I am reading too much into it.

Patrick Chauvel in Caen. July 2020 with Cécile Bastien Remy

What I will remember is the tough kindest of his eyes. Seeing the worse of humanity and reporting it to us in the form of pictures.

I could not help asking about how he is getting ready to go to a war zone. “I am always ready – this is my raison d’être”. His eyes were sparkling, his body upright…all the signs for eagerness.

Obsessed with the topic of resilience, I asked him how he recovers from what he has witnessed and went through? His answer carried a lot more sadness than enthusiasm.

“I block everything, I do not even dream, nor good or bad. All is locked firmly.”

That I am not entirely convinced by his answer. Especially when he mentioned how in times before digitalization the reporters used to spend time together every evening sharing stories with each other, unloading the worst of the day. If not with reporters then with the army squadron that included him in their logistics. Support is key to Resilience. This man does not seem to be a lone wolf.

There are days, weeks, and months when hardly anything happens. And there are minutes and seconds holding a whole new world.

Thanks to Patrick Chauvel, each war zone picture I will encounter from now on will carry more humanity than ever.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Only when adding the full story, it makes it priceless.


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