One Step Beyond. The Mine Revisited. From Narration to Photograph and Back

Lukas Einsele

[Texte disponible uniquement en anglais]

In the last 15 years I followed two photographic projects that were deeply connected to narratives and the orality of photography: One Step Beyond.  The Mine Revisited (2001-2007) and The Many Moments of an M85- Zenon’s Arrow Retraced (since 2009). Both projects examine and visualize the relationship between weapons and people, but from very different points of views. One Step Beyond (OSB) focuses on the survivors of landmines and makes the attempt to rehumanize them: from being numbers and charts in a public discussion led by humanitarian or military interests to people with a face, a memory and their own story to tell. A total of 48 people who were injured by landmines recalled their experiences for OSB and described the course of events around their accidents. A multifocal narration about landmines and perspectives of landmine survivors and their relationship to one another emerges, as well as a renarration that tries to establish a relationship with a wider public.

The question of representation was very important in all stages of my project, and it is intertwined with economic narratives, political narratives and journalistic research. OSB was made public in several exhibitions and an extended book publication that included interviews, research and photographic material as well as the portraits. The book enlarged the topic with ten authors’ views ­– contributions of journalists, physicians, philosophers, writers, art theorists, architects and humanitarian institutions staff. OSB was subject of TV and radio contributions, print media and magazine articles, and in many lectures. In all cases I attempted to develop forms of representation in keeping with the medium and its potential visitors, readers or listeners.

I think, or at least I thought that my artistic concept could help to reassemble the disrupted selves, – based on my experiences and understanding of remembering as a creative act and the coherency of a narrative. Narration, and furthermore the agreement on its coherency – even though it is about disruption – allows to reconstitute a person’s identity, which had been broken into incoherent pieces by a enormous shock or trauma.

One reason for my keen interest in the topic of mines and unexploded cluster bombs is that these objects represent an extension of war into peace. While there is still a clear distinction between the state of war and the state of peace, nonetheless the aftermath of war penetrates into peace. When a war is over, civilians come to rest again and urgently repossess their land that had temporarily been battlegrounds. They must re-cultivate if they don’t want to famish as a consequence of a war just ended.

I see my role in the project as an intermediate between remembrance, a personal and a public memory, and their narratives. The encounter between two or more people for the reason of making a photograph can be seen as a creative collaboration. The agreement  to create a photograph is the beginning of an interaction with the purpose  of creating a „good“ picture. It is a negotiation about proprietary and alien/foreign interests, about space, form, and time. So before creating as well as after taking the picture, a relationship is set up, which in its core is purely human: two people opposite to each other, besides and with each other. They look at and recognize each other as people. Finally, the image will transport an essential part of this encounter to the public, other people than the involved looking at the picture and having their own ideas.

I understand remembering as a creative act, and - if done in words, as stories or dialogues, in drawings, photographs or else – as a collaboration between people, an interaction in which they constitute one or many subjects and their identities. Through remembering people, events, objects, and locations are put in relation to each other. A network is created, which is plausible enough  to withstand internal and external doubts. Identity is based on the immediacy of the self, with the addition of memory and remembering.

I am interested in undertaking almost forensic investigations of events, places, objects, and eventually people with the objective of discovering, revealing and/or constructing relationships between them. I see this as an artistic method.

In his text A targetless crime, Bertrand Ogilvie quoted from Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer and gave his own interpretation: „To create is not to deform or invent people and things. It is to establish new relationships between people and things that exist, as they really are. This is a definition of what artists do, but one based on the notions of close observation and of acknowledgement of human dignity in the world as it exists; and it implies the freely assumed task of generating shifts that will produce innovative relationships, that will reveal complexity where, initially, only simple, separate entities could be perceived.“ [1]

Public narratives, private narratives and the photographer
A narration and furthermore the agreement on its coherency – even though it is about disruption - allows to reconstitute something of a person’s identity, which before was broken into incoherent pieces by a enormous shock or trauma. These individuals are put into a crucial situation: the only reason why they become subject to public interest [and also mine] are their defects, the fact that a mine destroyed their bodies. In other words: These people did not exist for us at all until they were severely injured by landmines. Their only public narrative is that of a „victim“, a body, which is different from ours. We would not know about any of these people if they hadn’t been severely harmed. And through these damages, these very personal encounters with a mine, only made to destroy their life, they merge: the wound becomes their sign, their personality, their identity. They are not longer individuals, but „mine victims“.We are not looking at the people but at the effects of a weapon. But the person behind this label shall reappear and become visible again with a name and a face and a story.

The wound, the missing part of the body speaks about difference: It is not only evidence of a dehumanizing effect but also permanently separates the survivor from the others.

A key for establishing a relationship might be the identification with the subject rather than separation from her or him. Sympathy with someone through the beauty of a face or the direct look at each other makes you permeable and sensitive to the stories, which then hit with much stronger effect.

The encounter of Rebecca Mujinga

„My name is Rebecca Mujinga. 

I stepped on a landmine in Kasongo. That's across the Luena River. We were five children. My friends and I. We went to collect wild fruit. We didn’t know that the place was mined. Actually, I was sent to get water from the river. But before I could leave, my friend Tina turned up at our home, and told me that we should join her and collect some fruit.

I said: ‚No, I can’t go. My mum told me to stay at home and look after the baby. I can’t go.‘ My friend insisted until I gave in. Tina pushed me. And so I went with her. 

Then we walked, and walked, and walked. My friends were in front of me. Except Tina. We were looking for fruit between the bushes. After a while I ran away from my friends. I wanted to go home and care for the baby. But they came after me and insisted I join them. 

Tina took my hand and pulled me with her. Finally I agreed, and we kept on walking. We walked further, and further, and further. Then we found the first tree with lots and lots of fruits. We picked them up off the ground. Then we walked, and walked, and walked. My friends were in front of me. Everything was safe. We came to the next tree. More fruit. We collected some more although we already had so much.

My friends were on their way back. I remained a little bit behind. I took a shortcut. Unfortunately, when I took my next step, I stepped on a landmine. 

I felt a heavy explosion-dohohoh-and I fell down. I had stepped on a mine. When I stepped on the mine, all my friends ran away. They continued along the path to the road. My right foot was bleeding. I started crawling until I reached the road.

My uncle Jamie came with a bicycle. He was carrying some firewood. He put me on the bicycle and pushed me home. Our house was very close by. He put me in the shade in front of the house. 

A lot of people gathered. Later on, a car passed by. They put me into the car and took me to the hospital. This is the car. I am here in the car. I came into a room, which I don’t remember. They started cutting off the flesh dangling from my leg. I fainted. When I woke up, I found myself on a bed in another  room. The room had two doors. This is me on the bed. I am wearing a skirt. This is my injured leg. This is the healthy one.“

Rebecca Mujinga © Lukas Einsele


Conditions of narratives
People who have been injured by landmines recall their experiences for OSB and describe the course of events surrounding their accidents. The conversations were conducted by interpreters with whom I had discussed form and content prior to the interviews taking place. Many local people contributed to the project: they established contacts, they mastered the interviews and translated from local languages.  The interpreters were holding the conversation while I was sitting besides them. They were asking the survivors to describe the place and their accident as precisely as possible (like a complex picture) and to recall the situation with all possible sensual memories, including what they saw, heard, smelled or even touched. Some of them have made drawings of the places where their accidents occurred. Following our conversations, I took portrait photographs of them with a large­format camera. The accidents described in One Step Beyond were recounted with the full knowledge that the stories would be published, and, through these media, made accessible to a large audience. The agreement I made with the storytellers might have affected the resulting stories’ form and intensity.

I see myself as a kind of conducting medium, helping the stories on their way – not only by recounting them, but by facilitating their departure from their place of occurrence, and – among other things – by helping them to reach people who are not directly affected by them.

In their attempt to reconstruct everything leading up to, and following, the moment of their amnesia caused by the shock of explosion, the storytellers create a poetic system, and place that moment within it. The dramaturgy of events, the people involved, the location – all these elements have been reconstructed for the listeners and readers of their stories. In the end the story, the documentation and the photographic picture determine a narrative departure in different directions: firstly, a clarification by pinpointing subjective memories of traumatic events. Secondly, the poetic system created for the story – including the images and references which are found, or invented, for it – is the first step in establishing a relationship between those who have experienced the accidents, and the listeners or readers. All these people’s stories – each person injured by a particular mine– the impact of each explosion, and the impact of each story, multiply, and take on a social, even a political dimension. That dimension is retold by the documentary layer of research. And thirdly, a photograph emerged out of the situation of the encounter, that for the beholder is open to other interpretations besides the ‚victim-story’.

Where can I reach whom and how? – This concerns the individuals having participated  as „survivor-narrators“, as well as all other participants from the teams and of course a wider public in different countries, and last but not least an „art-public“. In all these places the stories might be heard, read and retold, and my photos might contribute to these narratives, as my research did.


Lukas Einsele, photographe et enseignant à la Hochschule Luzern


[1] Bertrand Ogilvie: “A targetless crime?”, in David, Catherine, ed., One Step Beyond – Wiederbegegnung mit der Mine, Ostfildern-Ruiz: Hatje Cantz Verlag 2005, pp. 184-190. Vgl.a. Ogilvie: “Un crime sans adresse?” in L’Homme jetable. Essai sur l’exterminisme et la violence, Amsterdam, 2012: http://entre-là.net/lhomme-jetable-essai-sur-lexterminisme-et-la-violence-extreme-bertrand-ogilvie-le-silence-qui-parle/ [13.1. 2013] und