Focus on life

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 12:00am

PHOTOJOURNALIST Roger Job has seen things that would make a grown man cry. When he arrived in Zaire in 1994 during a cholera epidemic, people were dying in the hundreds. The volcanic ground was so hard that the bodies could not be buried, instead they were laid out in rows on the scorched earth.

'Some of the journalists who came to Zaire could not stomach it and had to leave. The first time you go to a place of suffering and death you know pretty fast whether you will be able to face it again,' says Job.

Job has been flying into places of suffering for more than a decade. He works on a freelance basis, but much of his time has been spent working with the humanitarian and medical relief organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) helping to document crises. Beginning with a job in Mozambique in 1988, he does about eight assignments a year for MSF.

The work can be very depressing, but he says in places of extreme misery he uses his camera as a shield against reality. 'When I am working I am focusing on getting the subject in the frame, concentrating on technique. Sometimes it is only when I get home and develop the photos that the real horror of the place affects me,' he says.

Home for Job is Belgium, where he lives with his wife, an anthropologist. Her work takes her away from home quite often, so sometimes they try to synchronise their trips so they can travel together.

More than 70 per cent of Job's MSF assignments are in Africa. He always takes out a comprehensive medical insurance package, because the water and food hygiene conditions in the countries he visits are often poor. Over the years, he has succumbed to a number of tropical diseases, including typhoid and malaria. 'But I am not afraid of getting sick. I know I can just jump on a plane and I will receive good treatment.'

That kind of first-class medical treatment is something many Africans can only dream about. On one of Job's most recent MSF assignments, he spent a month in the Congo photographing the country's crumbling health care system. The result is Congo 2000, a shocking pictorial account of the deterioration of the country's hospitals.

The book very nearly did not happen. After a month of shooting pictures in the Congo, he was pulled up by immigration at the airport and his films confiscated. The officials wanted to see the pictures, but because they did not have the facilities to develop slide film they returned the rolls after a week.

After years of doing what he calls 'misery stories', Job says he wants to return to the countries he has worked in and do positive stories on them. He has already returned to the Congo to photograph the scooters which many of the locals use to transport fruit and vegetables.

'When someone returns to Africa they are really welcomed back. Many of the people I meet when I arrive for an assignment are victims, but when I return they have got their lives back on track and are happy to see me,' he says.