Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Bosnian volleyball

A landmine survivor, missing his right foot, serves the vall in a volleyball game in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The game is organized by the Landmine Survivors Network. (Paul Jeffrey)

If we want the images we capture to be interesting and compelling, we’ve often got to change our point of view. Especially today, with the proliferation of imaging technology in the hands of many, we are inundated with images. If we want our images to stand out from the crowd, we’ve got to do something different. Take this image, for example. I was in Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, documenting the lives of people who’d lost limbs to land mines and other unexploded ordnance during and after the war. I went to a volleyball match at a local school gym. All the players on both teams were survivors of some kind of trauma, so as they put on their team uniforms, they took off their prosthetic arms and legs and piled them along the edge of the court. Then they spent the next hour or so scooting around on their butts on the hardwood floor.

I was photographing this, and getting frustrated because I knew the images were, well, less than thrilling. Since it wasn’t the Olympics, these weren’t exactly hardbodies with sand stuck to their butt cheeks–so that meant no sports porn. And because they couldn’t jump high in the air, there were no dramatic confrontations at the net for me to shoot–so no closeups of a spike in the making. But, hey, let’s face it, excuses come too easily to photographers. (There wasn’t enough light. There was too much light. They moved too fast. They didn’t move. There was no Starbucks nearby….)

Then it occurred to me that if I climbed up on one of the basketball backboards, I could shoot down on a player as he served the ball. I had to stack some chairs up to reach the backboard supports, then boost myself up, then have someone hand me up a camera, but I finally channeled enough of my childhood monkey bar prowess that I could wiggle out to where I looked down on the server. It was pretty dark in the old gym, so I had someone squat on the court holding a flash pointed at the server. I activated the flash remotely. (Using a flash from above would have made the image too flat, and over-illuminated the ball.) And, miracle of miracles, it worked. I snapped off several dozen serves until my arms got tired of holding me up there.

Yet at least I have arms. I’ve photographed land mine survivors in several places over the years, and I always come away with a tremendous appreciation for their courage. Somehow losing part of who we are often strengthens that which remains.

A change in the blog is coming soon. Stay tuned…

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