Stephen Dupont talks about his latest project: Don’t Look Away

Photojournalist Stephen Dupont wants you to be confronted by his images. The Australian, who has spent years documenting nations riven by conflict, describes himself as an anti-war photographer.

Dupont spoke with Fairfax Media about his latest project, Don't Look Away.

Stephen Dupont has spent more than two decades covering war, social conflict and natural disasters. This image shows the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, the Philippines, in 2013. <cite>Photo: Stephen Dupont</cite>
Stephen Dupont has spent more than two decades covering war, social conflict and natural disasters. This image shows the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, the Philippines, in 2013. Photo: Stephen Dupont

Stephen, please tell us about Don't Look Away  what does that title mean? 

I believe as photographers out there covering news we have a huge responsibility in capturing the truth. That means to photograph what is happening no matter how confronting it might be. In the case of my show, I want people to not look away from the images I am showing them, no matter how disturbing and confronting they might be. By not looking away you're honouring the dead and the living, a kind of memory to the suffering of others. You can say, I'm not really there with you…but I am. I want people to feel my photographs; if they don't feel them then I have failed as a photographer.

James Nachtwey speaks about photojournalists as being a "witness" to history, is that sort of what you are tapping into here?

His words speak loud and clear, yes we are witnesses to history and to memory. My show takes the audience on not just a journey into my life as a photographer but one through history itself. I reveal in a very personal way my own experiences while covering some of the world's biggest and forgotten stories over the past two decades. Through my stories and pictures I say, look at this, don't you remember? Or, look at this, can you believe this? I jolt people's senses and their memories so these tragic events are not forgotten.

This is a performance that is a mix of your work, and also you ad-libbing and speaking with moving and still images. What's it like to present your work in this way? 

I've spent years doing talks and lectures, keynotes. I needed another kind of approach to my work, one that uses photographs, sound scapes, music and videos, but most importantly one that allows me the presence on stage to deliver really personal and revealing stories. This performance is from the heart and one that allows me to engage the audience in a most powerful way. This theatrical approach lets the audience really engage in my world, my photography.

What do you want participants of your show to take away from it? Do you have a message or theme that you want to get across?

I'm an anti-war photographer. I want people to really see how shocking and inhumane it is. That even though we can't seem to prevent wars, there is a sense of hope, a sense of humanity. If I can motivate people into action or at least a better understanding of our world we live in, than my message has been heard.

What range of your work will be on show? 

Over two decades of war, social conflict and natural disasters. It's really biographical and lets people into my soul I guess, lets them have a better understanding of why I do what I do. From a young and adventurous inexperienced observer to a concerned and dedicated activist for humanity. From covering Vietnam for Playboy magazine in 1989 to a life covering Africa, the Middle East, Asia and most notably Afghanistan. A window inside world history.

A great deal of your work has been documenting conflict zones. Is this a subject you will continue to focus on? It must be incredibly difficult to be a "witness" to some of the world's worst conflicts and has to come at a personal cost?

I ask that question constantly to myself, it's in my blood now, I can't ever imagine stopping. I think with all the experiences, I've become much more selective about what is really important to me and what I want to cover. Having a family changes you and I'm no longer just out there on my own anymore. It's like asking a surfer to stop riding waves…it just won't happen.

I want that my photographs and the stories really move people, makes them think and take in what they have experienced, digest it and talk about it. If my photographs can be a voice for the marginalised and suffering, then I feel quite satisfied.