Telling the forgotten stories

A self proclaimed messenger

Stephen Dupont’s chosen direction in life has seen him narrowly dodge bullets in war-torn countries in a bid to cover the forgotten stories.

The 49-year-old internationally awarded photographer and documentary filmmaker has had his work published extensively, with his own war diaries forming the basis of his Master of Philosophy degree, gained last year from UOW.

His life as a photographer began in 1989 when he covered the historical Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, and this followed with photo essays in Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, Indo-China and Australia. Over the years his work has been exhibited in cities around the world, including London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Canberra, Tokyo and Shanghai and featured in international newspapers and magazines.

Dupont firmly believes the powerful mediums in which he works should act as a voice for everyone, especially those marginalised in the world.

“I’ve always been drawn to stories not getting media attention – the forgotten stories such as Afghanistan or in Angola in the early 1990s which, at the time, hardly anybody was covering. I was there to get the word out – in effect to be the messenger,” Dupont says.

Warning: the below album contains violence, graphic scenes and nudity.

And in Afghanistan, Dupont certainly got the word out to the world with his photographs of US troops burning the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.

He says he was torn personally and professionally over whether to release the footage, but in the end he knew he had a responsibility to tell the world what was going on.

“Islamic and non-Islamic reaction to these images was very strong. I believe simply that I had a journalistic duty to release the photos. As with all my shots from the war fronts I was trying to tell a story from both sides.”

This film work earned a spot as a finalist in the 2006 Rory Peck Sony Impact Awards.

In 2008 while on assignment in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, a suicide bomber attacked Dupont’s convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 15 and wounded many others.

Dupont turned the camera on himself for this story as earlier he had been knocked out temporarily by the blast and suffered a head wound.

“It’s rare to be a victim and witness at the same time but I had a chance to show the ugly side of the war on terror in Afghanistan.

“You don’t really see your life flash past you right at that moment – it’s hours later when you have had a chance to digest what’s happened and realise you have looked at death’s door.”

Dupont says he has been privileged to be part of some great historical moments, but acknowledges it does not come without a price as he retells how colleagues have been killed or wounded.

As a young man, and by his own admission a little naïve, Dupont’s first venture into war was in Sri Lanka, where he says he was shot at and should have been killed as bullets flew past his head.

He doesn’t take as many risks as he did earlier in his life but it has not stopped him from going into war zones.

“I have a lovely partner and a nine-year-old daughter and I, of course, have to think of them as well as myself. But at the same time my 'other world' of documenting/photography is very important to me."

Inspired by war photographers, Dupont always knew that one day he too would be drawn into recording the events occurring in war-torn countries. It’s a far cry from his early days as a celebrity photographer, which he says was an interesting training ground and something he did “to help pay the bills”.

His efforts since those early days in his photographic career have certainly not gone unnoticed.

In 1994 he was selected as one of the 10 most promising young documentary photographers internationally, and was invited to participate in the first World Press Photo Master Class held in the Netherlands. In 1997 he based himself in Paris where he joined the photo agency Contact Press Images, of which he is still a member. Dupont was the first Australian to be awarded Harvard University’s Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography in 2010 which enabled him to spend prolonged periods travelling through Papua New Guinea.

Having left Sydney, Dupont has now made a sea change to Wollongong, allowing him much more time to pursue his passion for surfing. It’s an interest which he says keeps him sane and balanced.

His constant love of travel – which he has done since he was a teenager – has never diminished, but these days says: “I am only away three or four months of the year, as I am able to do production work and edit books from home.”

His Masters degree supervisor, Dr David Blackall, convinced him to undertake the postgraduate degree which would provide an invaluable legacy in the form of Dupont’s own war diaries.

“The degree certainly made me reflect on my own work and career and I would actively encourage others to embark on similar degrees.”

Dupont hasn’t ruled out undertaking a PhD, but his immediate focus is on completing a film he undertook with Bob Connolly in Papua New Guinea, a revisitation of the earlier documentary, Black Harvest, in which Bob was involved. The documentary, which is a study of the intrusion of modern culture on the Ganiga (an Aboriginal tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea) is to feature on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent program.

And shortly Dupont is off to Mexico to cover the ‘Day of the Dead Festival’ – which at some stage will form the basis of a book he is working on. The festival involves family and friends gathering to pray for, and remember, friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey.

But for the time being, Dupont’s own journey is in the here and now, working on a range of fronts and trying to be a ‘voice for everyone’.

Visit Stephen Dupont's website to view more of his work.

Stephen Dupont
Master of Philosophy (Creative Arts), UOW 2015