Marcus Bleasdale Documents the Congo for National Geographic
Marcus Bleasdale shared a glimpse at how the minerals used in electronic devices have ravaged the Congo for National Geographic's 125th anniversary "Power of Photography" special.
In the late nineties, Bleasdale documented the conflict in Sierra Leone (which surrounded access to diamonds) and soon found himself in the Central African Republic, fascinated by the Congo River. "At the time, I was reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and it struck me that the images Conrad described were similar to what I was seeing," the photographer said. "I thought, 'Hasn't anything changed since he was around?' It was interesting to use that as a thesis and travel the Congo River to determine whether things had changed ... so that is what I did until 2002 and published it in a book called One Hundred Years of Darkness."
Bleasdale became more and more interested in the effects of natural-resource exploitation in the Congo, putting out another book, The Rape of a Nation, and his photos impacted policy in the United States and D.R.C. As such, National Geographic asked him to shoot another series for this month's issue. "Price of Precious" depicts children working at a militia-run mine, villagers fleeing from fighting in the Ituri region, and parents waiting at a clinic for medicine that never arrives.
"A photograph is one of the strongest ways we can touch others," he remarked, "because it's very rare to travel to the depths of a Congo mine or meet a child soldier on the road, but if you can transport people there through imagery and give them that experience – show them the horrific lives – then maybe they will be moved enough to engage ... politically, or through activism or charity."
Meanwhile, after a decade of covering the Congo, Bleasdale sought a topic closer to his home, Norway. "I was in the northern part of the country and I came across these whaling groups that I hadn't seen any photos of," he recalled. "I pitched the idea to National Geographic and the editors loved it – they wanted to know if it would be possible to get on the boats. It took me about two years to gain the confidence of the local population, and I spent two whaling seasons and one winter season on the boats. His photo essay, "Last of the Viking Whalers," ran in the publication's June issue.
Though the pair of stories is unalike, for Bleasdale, each underscores National Geographic's "eclectic and valuable nature." He went on: "As a magazine, it's such an amazing space because the team respects the creative amount of process, gives you an enormous amount of time, and has tremendous resources to make things happen. Nat Geo really wants you to respect the communities you document for them."