of Christine Spengler
Children of War
When I was a child in Madrid, nothing predisposed me to become a photographer. The only thing I knew at the time was that I wanted to be a writer. It’s only at the age of 23, when my brother and I were involved with the Tubus’ revolt in Chad that I discovered my second vocation: war correspondent.
For the very first time in my life, I realized that in some extreme situations words weren’t enough. I needed a camera.
With it, testimonies would be undeniable. Everywhere I’d go, it would help me to capture tragedy, pain but also the children’s (or “war flowers” as I called them) laughs and games in an indelible way.
In Vietnam, my “new eye” immortalized the enigmatic smile of a young girl who polished the GI’s boots for the last time an hour before the peace declaration. I took a shot of the children soldiers who displayed amazing tattoos on their chest and peonies on their helmets, just like in “Apocalypse Now”. I liked following them. Even in the middle of the war, they never lost their innocence. At dinner time, they used to take a break to play the guitar in the calcined forests.
In Phnom Penh, thanks to my particular point of view, I captured the apocalyptic view of a bombed town, buried beneath the ashes, lighted by a pale midnight sun. I didn’t linger on the bodies that were burning in the furnace in the foreground.
Already, at that time, I refused sensationalism. I was anxious to show the pain of the survivors, just like that child who mourned for his father, hidden by a mortar, before escaping under a napalm cloud. He was the victim, the tortured child… An hour before the drama, I immortalized him, with some friends, swimming, carefree, in the Mekong among empty mortar shells’ cartridges.
It was my decision not to take a picture of the father, drowned in his own blood.
Being a woman has really helped me in this job. In the middle of nowhere, equipped with my Nikon, I have been facing every kind of situations with the same determination and strength of a man. Sometimes, I even took the same photos. Opening my heart, I went in search of Life. Then, I saw amazing things that moved me deeply as if each horrifying moment was followed by scenes of hope.
I wasn’t aware that these pictures would be in the headlines of the magazines contrary to the bloody ones…
In the heart of the war, I learned that the survival instinct was stronger than death, like on this picture, where an Indigenous woman, whose arms had been scratched by a grenade, was breast feeding her baby on a coffin.
In the Western Sahara desert, I went to battle with soldiers of the Polissario Front. Back to the camps, I took pictures of women who had swapped their riffles and parkas for a coloured veil in order to look after children in underground nurseries.
Dressed in black, I could enter Khomeini’s house in Iran, go to Kurdistan every day by helicopter when the fearsome Ayatollah Khalkhali (also called “the red handed butcher”) asked me to be his photographer. I decided to leave him the day before the first execution of Kurdish intellectuals. This picture was awarded with the “World Press” distinction. However, I never was interested in scoops nor awards. I’d rather stay on the scene and provide an in depth work.
My brother’s suicide determined my career. I became even more sensitive to the pain of the world. During all these years, I wanted to die even if flirting with danger every day made me love life.
I still remember with emotion these Iranian women who revealed their beautiful faces, these Palestinian widows crying while they showed me the picture of their dead husbands or these beautiful Afghan Madonna who looked at me hidden under “Tchadries”.
Today, at the same time I’m obscurity & brightness, like in the amphitheatre of my childhood in Madrid.
I dedicate this portfolio to these women, men and children, all victims of the war, who cried, suffered and smiled through the objective of my camera. They keep on fighting every day for their dignity under the black sun of the war.