Wolf Böwig is a photojournalist, a war reporter who travels to the places that other people are leaving in droves. Euphemistically, he refers to them as conflict regions, but the horrors he encounters far surpass anything the term ‘conflict’ could possibly evoke. He covered the Yugoslav wars and the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Africa immediately after the Rwandan genocide. It is no accident that these are all corners of the world where the borders have been arbitrarily drawn and do not coincide with cultural, historical or ethnic areas, which, in turn, is one of the reasons why there is little trust in the state in these regions.
What Böwig saw and experienced in his travels often resembled scenes from a nightmare, and consequently his photographs regularly take us to the limits of what we can bear, and many go even further. What drives him, Böwig says, is a humanist mission which he has taken upon himself. He is not after the spectacular single image. Instead, he has been returning to many places every year for long-term reporting, and he has accompanied some people for a good part of his life. He used to work for Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for Le Monde and the New York Times, but there is no place in daily news journalism anymore for an approach like his. Now Böwig concentrates on producing and contributing to exhibitions, brochures and book projects, visual indictments through which he wants to raise awareness for the inhumanity of everyday life in the world’s warzones. In 2017, his last journey to date led him along the Grand Trunk Road from the Myanmar border through Bangladesh, India and Pakistan all the way to Kabul.
Böwig travelled along this route for five months on buses, by bicycle or on foot, not as a tourist, but as an observer, looking for the traces of economic, political and religious conflicts 70 years after the Partition of the subcontinent. He brought not much more than the clothes he had on, two cameras, three objective lenses, bags full of films, and the small tools for his diary: scissors and glue. From the little things that he found along the way and that seemed significant, Böwig produced collages which he collected in a folder. His materials were coins, photographs, newspaper clippings, matches and packaging, razor blades and pebbles. These collages are an artistic way of processing what he experienced, full of symbols and metaphors. Notes about his impressions complete the collages. Böwig calls these works a ‘departure for the inside’. Producing them is his personal method for finding calm at the flashpoints of world politics. Over the course of this year, twelve of these collages will be featured on our travel pages on double-page spreads, to retell Böwig’s journey three thousand kilometres from East to West across the entire subcontinent.
FAZ, 11. January 2018