(Un)covering War with JAN GRARUP

"The media landscape today is very fast forward. What was interesting four months ago is not interesting today. Right now Ukraine is something that everybody talks about but it won’t last very long. And that’s a big problem."


Ukraine, war, Russia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, Ukrainian family

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


THE STORY


Profession:

Photojournalist & Visual Artist


Current Location:

Copenhagen


Early Career:

It started in Northern Ireland back in the 1980s, when I was very fascinated by cities that were divided either by politics, by religion or by international affairs – places like Northern Ireland, where Belfast was divided between the Catholics and Protestants, or Berlin, divided between communists and the Western world. So it began there; things developed and soon, it became extremely violent. At the same time, there were many other conflicts coming up, like Panama in the late ‘80s, the revolution in Romania, the Balkan wars, etc. Before I even knew it, I sort of ended up covering conflicts all over the world.

I think that what happens is that once you actually start working in places like those, you see life in a completely different light. You happen to be in situations where the people you meet have either lost everything or are fighting for a cause or for freedom. And all of a sudden, documenting these stories becomes your number one target point. So it wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, ‘listen, I want to be a war photographer’. It came by coincidence so to say – or at least, it started as a coincidence – and soon turned out to be my entire life.


Ukraine, war, Russia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, Ukrainian family

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


Current Works:

Apart from covering the war in Ukraine intensely I have been covering forgotten conflicts around the world for DRC (Danish Refugee Council). My work from covering the conflict in Colombia recently won the SONY World Organisation Award. But I am also very focused on the climate changes around the world and the effects it will have on migration and the poorest people in the world.


Ukraine, war, Russia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, Ukrainian family

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


Awards:

World Press Photo awards, UNICEF, W. Eugene Smith Foundation for Humanistic Photography, Oskar Barnack award, POYi and NPPA. In 2005 he was awarded with a Visa d’Or at the Visa Pour l’Image photo festival in France, for his coverage of Darfur’s refugee crisis


The work you are the most proud of:

I didn't become a photographer to win prices or get recognition. I want to tell people's stories and it makes me proud when I can help tell their stories and hopefully create attention to an area or situation.


war, Afghanistan, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, explosion

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


THE Qu & A


What are values that you wish to mediate through your work?


The most important part for me is to be honest, in terms of what I see, what I photograph, and the people that I talk to. You and I might have different ideas about stories or the information that we get. And that's absolutely fine, but people need to be able to trust my stories, while having their own values and ideas. I'm not here with a political agenda. I know exactly where I stand with my values, in terms of what is going on in Ukraine for example, but for me the most important thing is that people trust my work.


I think we are very lucky in Europe because we have an open and honest society, you can say just about anything. Even though Viktor Orban and the Danish Prime Minister might not agree, you can speak your mind, you can have a free press. Having an open society where the media can print stories and have this honesty is absolutely crucial for me because it makes people make up their own mind. You and I can disagree on many different layers but at least we are able to talk to each other.


war, Afghanistan, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, explosion

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


What are relevant challenges that you wish to elaborate through your work?


I use all of myself. I get involved in the stories which affect me not just physically but also mentally. I take it all in. For me that is a part of who I am but it is also very challenging because it’s not a nine-to-five job, it is something that is with me all the time. Ukraine right now is on everybody’s mind, just like climate change. I really want people to understand what I see. Getting personally involved is absolutely key for me.


war, Afghanistan, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, explosion

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


In Open Conversation with GAHSP

That took place on the 11th of April 2022 via Zoom


You have spent several weeks in Ukraine documenting the war which is ongoing. Tell us what you have seen there. How did it affect you?


It’s a terrible war. I have never thought that I will see a war like this again in Europe. I covered the Siege of Sarajevo back in the nineties, I did both wars in Chechnya, I did Georgia. All of these conflicts were extremely brutal but I thought that in this part of the world, in Europe and Russia, this would be something we did many years ago but would never do again. The people who are hit the worst are civilians. It is terrible to see how people lose their children, their fathers and mothers, in these very brutal bombings in civilian areas. The most important thing for me in this is to document what people are doing to each other in Europe in 2022... I am really sad when you look at how Russia is actually not telling the truth. The reason why a lot of people in Russia don’t really understand what is going on is because they are misled by the government.


Ukraine, war, Russia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, Ukrainian family

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


How do people adapt to living in a war zone? How does their perception of the war change over time?


It’s a very good question. What actually happens is that you get used to it. It becomes a part of your daily life. You used to go for a walk with your boyfriend, but then the war starts, and everybody stops, everybody is scared. So after three-four weeks of constant bombings, people just get used to it. They start to do the same things again. Just like it was with Covid, people try to work around it. They continue to fall in love or play with their children. The same thing happens during war. But you have to remember that people die, and they die every day - even if for some strange reason they get used to it.


Ukraine, war, Russia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, Ukrainian family

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


You came across many different cultures all around the world through your work. How do you adapt these experiences into your life?


I know people from many different cultures and I can see values in all of them. I don’t see cultural behaviors and different ways of growing up as a problem. It’s something that teaches me. With refugees coming to Europe, Denmark, Hungary and Poland because of the war in Ukraine, I see this unity that is quite unique. However, at one point, there will have to be a discussion that we need to take into consideration: what is the difference between the Syrian and Afghanistan refugees trying to get to Europe and a Ukrainian refugee? I covered the war in Syria, I covered the war in Afghanistan, I know that their need for safety is just as big as from Ukrainians. So, what is this about? That is a kind of European racism, if you like, that we need to take into consideration.


The only thing I can do is, I can speak my mind, and see, tell people stories how I see them, show them the pictures. I know, at some point, I would do a story again in Afghanistan, when everybody might be focused on Ukraine and say “Ok, what is the difference between this young Ukrainian girl and this young Afghan girl?”, “What is the value of her life compared to the Afghan girl?”. I know where I stand, you know where you stand. In the media, which is absorbent to what is happening in the world, you have to put this question out.


war, Afghanistan, Columbia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, explosion

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


#MEDIA

Jan Grarup answers questions from our #MEDIA Campaign, a monthly practice to shift more focus to our mission: creating an alternative to traditional media where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. We explore opinions, experiences and wishes that other media outlets will keep unheard.


Is the current media landscape harmful?


The media landscape today is very fast forward. What was interesting four months ago is not interesting today. Right now Ukraine is something that everybody talks about but it won’t last very long. And that’s a big problem. So, while we are talking about Ukraine right now, nobody talks about Afghanistan. Once they leave a story, they don’t look back - but that doesn’t make the problem go away. That’s also why in the media world you have something called a sexy conflict. It’s a terrible word, I really hate it.


Online media is a dangerous format because there are a lot of people behind the screens who write all kinds of things, right? That’s why it is so important to me to show who I am, not just in terms of my work, but also defining who I am, people have to understand who I am as a person. So many people are hiding behind social media, false IDs, false names, writing all kinds of nonsenses. And that’s a danger. We have to recognize that.


war, Afghanistan, Columbia, civilian, bombing, photojournalism, political conflict, documentary, war photography, explosion

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup


What do you think the media should do differently?


I would prefer if we had a media landscape where we would take stories way more seriously. Instead of producing stories that will have a lot of viewers or potential hits, an honest alternative where we would stay with the stories for much longer. Unfortunately the situation does not only depend on the newspapers, but also on the people who actually read them. The problem is two-sided. Newspapers are trying to hunt readers who then are unfaithful.


To learn more about Jan Grarup and his work visit www.madebygrarup.com


This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.


Written and Edited by Julia Horvath

Image Courtesy of Jan Grarup