Afraid – So What?
Marie Claire South Africa|November 2018

French photojournalist VRONIQUE DE VIGUERIE is not afraid of bad guys, killers or rapists. She photographed the battle of Mosul, boarded a ship full of rebels in Niger, and tracked bloodthirsty insurgents while five months pregnant. Here, she tells KATIE BREEN more about her journey behind the lens.

Véronique de Viguerie is curious about all things and would like to change the world, one picture at a time. But the most significant aspect of her personality is her boldness. She’s a daredevil. As a child she wanted to join the army, but her father put a stop to that idea. Twelve years after she first started taking pictures, she’s a multi-award-winning photographer whose work has been published internationally. Véronique has also produced numerous stories for Marie Claire together with her friend and colleague Manon Querouil-Bruneel.

At the time of this interview, the two of them had just returned from 10 days in Iraq – 10 days enduring the stern and degrading attitude of the Iraqi Shiites, who demanded they wear a veil and a burqa, gloves and even black socks to hide their feet. They came back feeling that the Iraqi Sunni women – only recently liberated from Daesh’s rule – are now in danger of falling under the thumb of the Shia’s anti-women extremism.

You have met some of the most dreadful men on earth. What draws you to such assignments?

I don’t like to see the world in black and white; I hate the idea of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. The first time I went to Afghanistan, I was embedded with American soldiers. I arrived full of negative preconceptions about the American military and the way they treated the Afghan people. But they were just boys; 17- and 18-year-olds. Some of them had enrolled to pay for college and never wanted to face combat. That’s when I realised that these were just normal kids. Right after that, I spent a few days with the Taliban, and I expected to meet the devil – monsters of pure evil. Once again I found myself with 17- and 18-year-olds who had been brainwashed, who didn’t know any better and were convinced they are fighting a just war against the Americans. It was such a shock to realise that, despite their horrendous actions, they were likeable. They played on their phones, they had Britney Spears ringtones, they brought us orange juice and tried to communicate with us using the three or four English words that they knew. Meeting these two groups of soldiers one after the other was a revelation: I had this deep feeling that I was tired of seeing the world in black and white, that I wanted to make it all more human. I’m not about to justify the Taliban but, after that assignment, they had a face.

Have there been moments when you felt that your life was in danger?

Yes, of course. With the Taliban, for instance. For the first few minutes, you have an escort who takes you where you need to go, and you look through the window and you start seeing motorcycles surrounding you, with a couple of guys on each bike, each holding a rocket launcher or an AK-47. They were hostile and immediately asked for our phones. They didn’t manhandle us, but we wondered whether we had fallen into the lion’s den.

When Manon and I went to meet pirates in Somalia, we knew we had fully researched and secured the meeting place, but there are always unexpected elements. At the time, Somali pirates were making the headlines, daily. This assignment was very interesting because when we started talking with the pirates’ leader, he told us how their piracy was born: Somalia had had no state since 1991, and many fishing boats were coming into Somalia’s national waters to steal their fish. So the fishermen organised themselves, putting together a coastguard militia to protect their waters. Radioactive waste was also being disposed of along their coast, and some Somali children were dying of cancer. But nobody cared, and the world started to pay attention to them only when they began to seize ships. Why did no one intervene before then? This is when I learned that, in a conflict, if you can have access to both sides, it’s always better. Partial knowledge and ignorance breed mistakes and misunderstandings.

It’s certainly interesting to investigate the other side of a conflict, but doesn’t that make you look like spies?

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