Sometimes the best images aren’t where you thought you’d find them. In 2002, just after Jonas Savimbi was killed, I went to Angola to cover the end of that country’s bloody civil war. Savimbi was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite “freedom fighters,” and US funding and encouragement, including from private terrorist groups like the Heritage Foundation, along with hundreds of millions of dollars earned from conflict diamonds that he sold to South Africa’s De Beers corporation, kept Savimbi’s UNITA rebels in the game in what became a classic proxy fight of the Cold War. Savimbi participated in 1992 elections, judged by international observers to be fair, but lost the first round the and then pulled out of the run-off in order to return to war. When he died in combat in early 2002, the war stopped almost immediately, demonstrating how the violence had become simply a projection of rabid anti-communism.
I traveled to Angola’s war zones to document the disarmament process and look at how the war had affected both civilians and combatants. In Luena, in Angola’s eastern Moxico province, I spent a couple of hours one afternoon in a center that provided amputees with rehabilitation and prosthetic devices. Most of the clients had lost limbs to land mines. I took all the classic pictures of men and women without legs struggling to gain their balance atop somewhat primitive wooden legs. And so on. The pictures were OK, but nothing spectacularly dramatic. Then as I walked outside into a dusty parking area in front of the building, I see these men, all with missing limbs and crutches, lined up looking at something, the late afternoon sun throwing their dramatic shadows on the ground. I quickly captured a few frames before they started moving away, and it was one of those images which most strongly captured the spirit of the place and the time. This image has been used a lot over the years, including in a billboard in Germany. It’s a reminder to keep looking for images, including in places we wouldn’t expect to find them.