With her UXO series, the photographer explores the danger of explosives left over from the Vietnam War. Residents of non-cleared areas continue to face the threat of being injured or killed by an explosion. Margaux Senlis traveled to Vietnam, as well as to Laos and Cambodia, to embark on a photographic investigation exhibited as part of the Circulation (s) festival in Paris.
How did you become aware of this issue?
I had already been to Cambodia once, where I traveled a lot by car; I knew there were minefields left, but I hadn't realized that there were that many. I was shocked by the number of fields and signs I saw on the roads. I inquired about it and found out that there were a lot of mines left and that they were still causing casualties to this day. I wanted to do a photographic project to bear witness to this persistent danger, which is still there, almost fifty years after the conflicts.
To find out more, did you do any research or contact any not-or-profits?
I did five months of research to prepare for my trip. I contacted different organizations. I knew where I wanted to go in each country, what type of person to meet. I took portraits of farmers, workers and children, who are the main victims of anti-personnel mines.
This is a tough subject. One would expect to see difficult images. Yet you took a very gentle approach.
I thought that was important. It's a violent and topical subject, but to me it was important not to show images that are too powerful or too violent, because it's a hidden danger, it's something that you can't see, the buried mine. It's not by talking about a violent subject that you're going to find this violence. I wanted it to be a bit of a hidden, underlying representation, I wanted there to be several different ways of interpreting the image, so that you can look at it once, then understand what it's about and look at it differently. Understanding what's behind a landscape, what's behind a jungle. I included a lot of pictures of water because during the rainy season, water mixes with the soil and it unearths bombs and mines.
You also stage some of your shots in the studio.
There are some that I took over there. For example, the bombs that I photographed in Laos. They let me "borrow" some bombs. I made them into a still life with a piece of fabric that drying on the terrace. It's an area where there used to be a lot of farming in the past and that is now abandoned because of the mines.
Are the governments of these countries doing anything to improve the situation?
Yes, they do mine removal. Quite simply, there is a lot of work and it's so spread out ... Demining is very slow and very expensive work. The reason there are still places that haven't been cleared is because there are too many of them. There are also local NGOs doing a lot of work. But there are still mines left… And there are grassroots prevention efforts. But it's not enough.
Interview by Coline Olsina & Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
From June 5 to July 28, 2020
Centquatre, 5 rue Curial - 75019 Paris