Sources and Methods #12: Louie Palu


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Louie Palu 101:

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"Four Burning Questions for Louie Palu, photojournalist"
"Louie Palu Talks Global Conflict"
"Louie Palu: The Art of War"
"Dangerous exposure: Photojournalist Louie Palu on working in conflict zones"
"“Photographs Are There To Empower You”: Louie Palu Talks Mexico, The Drug War And Photography"

"Kandahar Journals"

"Portrait of an Artist: Louie Palu"

"Prison Photography: Louie Palu"

Show Notes:

2:45 - British photographer Don McCullin inspired me to become a photographer, saw his work and photographs, and immediately connected with it.

4:55 - Freelancing was exhilarating at the start, taking a photograph and then seeing it in paper’s the next day, but I knew quickly I wanted to work on long term projects.

5:32 - First major project were the mines in Northern Quebec and Ontario.

6:20 - I don’t usually get commissioned to do work, I do my own projects and then try to publish them. Eventually got hired at the Globe and Mail.

7:02 - Why do I cover war? I used to say because it was important, and of course it is. But really, there’s nothing personal in that answer, and it didn’t satisfy me. What I realized was that it all connected to my parents, to my roots. My dad's friend was thrown in a POW camp during WWII serving in the Italian Army, and he used to have to fight for food, literally competing with dogs. And that story really stuck with me, as I grew up with these stories, and it really has informed my work.

9:34 - The first conflict I covered was in Kandahar. I was a Canadian, and I heard we were about to start a combat mission there, and I wanted to document it, to start one of my long term projects. It wasn’t just a historical / patriotic thing, it was ‘what’s happening with this country, and our country.’

11:02 - My photography in Afghanistan wasn’t about Italian, or Canadian, or even Afghan, but it was about a human experience.

14:03 - Kandahar has astonishing history, so much to document.

17:01 - I wanted to avoid being a photographer who followed the shooting, or ‘bang bang’ as photographers call it. Did lots of researcher, and really tried to figure out how I could physically get where things were happening, and fill in the holes in the embedding system.

27:00 - Absurdity and war certainly go hand and hand.

31:49 - How to prepare for heading out in Kandahar? Basic respect and researching about everybody in that place as much as possible, and learning about the small things. Everyone wants to learn about the big things, but it’s really the small things.

33:10 - The Taliban don’t want to destroy Afghanistan, they want it to cohere. Afghanistan has always been a weak state but a strong nation.

35:03 - I think it’s important to see war from all sides. Only until you reach inside yourself and understand your own humanity is inhumanity revealed. Until you understand that, you’ll never get it.

52:02 - War is never straight forward, many people think that. It’s a lot of shades of grey. I think the important thing is training - and a lot of journalists went to Afghanistan but they were inexperienced, and this showed. Neutral and objective reporting wasn’t always there. It’s about looking at everybody as an individual.

54:25 - Palu’s Garmsir Marine Portraits. And his Concept Newspaper.

56:15 - I’ve covered the Mexican Drug War, and nobody wants to believe how violent that place is. 100,000 dead since 2006 - it’s like a little Syria with a functioning economy.

1:10:20 - One of my favorite photographs from Guantanamo doesn’t have to do with the detainees - I really started thinking about the environment of this place, and took a picture of a chair. It’s just a chair. But you don’t need to see any more to understand that something probably not that great happened there, and I thought it was really powerful.

1:17:13 - The big next project: Kandahar Journals, from 2009 and 2010 when I was in Kandahar. And I’ve been working on a story to go underneath all the stories and writing and photographs from my time there. It’s also about Kandahar being this forgotten front in the war as well. Working on a book as well. I’m also working on publishing parts of my archive and make it more accessible to the public.