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01 sep


Laurence Geai – “I don’t want to die for
a picture.”

For someone who started her photographic career shooting weddings at weekends, Laurence Geai has come a long way in a short time. Her journey to Visa has taken her via Syria, The Central African Republic, Iraq and Gaza, where her ‘Troubled Waters’ story looks at the unequal distribution of scarce water resources between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.

© Laurence Geai/Sipa Press © Laurence Geai/Sipa Press

Al Hadidiyah (Area C), a Bedouin village with a population of 112 (14 families), Palestine, July, 2015. The wells here have run dry as the Israeli wells are deeper. Palestinians need Israeli authorization to drill a water bore in Area C, and this is rarely granted. Here the water from an Israeli well is polluted and can only be used for animals; the Palestinians cannot reach it. Some families are in debt because of the exorbitant cost of water. The Israeli military regularly destroy the community’s tent homes.

The turning point in her life was her experience on a humanitarian mission in the Philippines. “I saw things that I thought were very unfair – children sorting through mountains of garbage – and I wanted to tell the world about it. That’s why I changed to journalism. For me, the most important thing is to take information back to my country and a picture is the easiest way for me to do that. Then the Syrian revolution started and I decided to go there, just with a camera. The pictures weren’t good, at first, but you learn a lot about what forms a picture and you know how to improve.”

Being a female photographer in such difficult situations has both advantages and disadvantages.

“The positive point is having easier access to other women. But the negative aspect is that I’ve had some bad experiences, especially when I was in Iraq with soldiers. And then you can’t trust them, which is not good. Sometimes they’ll protect you and are impressed that you’re a girl, but sometimes they’re abusive. The major problem with being a woman is the men. They all want to do a selfie and sometimes they try to touch you. It’s really annoying, so now I say no to selfies.”

© Yiannis Katsaris © Yiannis Katsaris

A visitor views Laurence Geai's exhibition in the Couvent des Minimes.

As you might expect, wandering hands are the least of the dangers Laurence has encountered.

“We were following Daesh with Peshmerga and the Iraqi army, and we arrived at the frontline, without realising it was the frontline. Somebody yelled ‘Car bomb!’ in Kurdish, which I didn’t understand. But everybody ran away, so I ran away. I asked for shelter in an armoured vehicle, but the Peshmerga soldier closed the door… the sonofabitch. So another one grabbed me and put me on the ground under the vehicle. I couldn’t take any pictures because I was running… when you see all the fighters leaving the frontline, it’s scary. It was my first time on an offensive and I didn’t prepare well, so I made mistakes.”

Thankfully the ‘Troubled Waters’ story, which Laurence is exhibiting at Visa, was shot in somewhat less dramatic circumstances. “In Gaza, I saw a different way to make war, the way the water is divided. It’s really sad, because both sides are so nice and both sides are your friends. I spent a nice time there. People are the same everywhere – they gave me tea when I went to Gaza and cookies when I went to the Israeli settlements. So I tried to be fair with this exhibition and not to make judgements. I described the situation with water and that’s it.”

© Laurence Geai/Sipa Press © Laurence Geai/Sipa Press

Shuja’iyya district, Gaza City, Palestine, February 2015. A man outside what was once his home. He has hooked up a pipe to a well, but the water is unfit for human consumption, as is 96% of the water from the part of the coastal aquifer under the Gaza Strip. Upstream, it is overtapped by Israel, then seawater flows into it, as does pesticide-contaminated runoff from farmland. During the war, 40% of the water network and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip were damaged or destroyed.

Laurence accepts the risks that come with her chosen profession. “You have to be very close when you take pictures and you have to take time, and it can be so dangerous”, she admits. “But I don’t walk away when I’m scared. I work and I take pictures. But I’ll pay more attention when I go back to Iraq. I don’t want to die for a picture. It’s not my war. It’s not my country. I want to tell the story, but I don’t want to take too much risk and I need to be careful.”

There is one thing she would welcome, however. “When I cover a war I carry two 5D Mark IIIs and 35mm and 24mm fixed lenses, and a 70-200mm, which I have to have because it’s sometimes better not to be too close. But it’s so heavy, especially when I’m wearing a flak jacket in 50 degree heat. So please, Canon, help me and make them lighter!”

Visa pour l'Image 2016