What the cam­era saw — from Rwanda to Bol­ly­wood

Jonathan Tor­gov­nik is one of the world’s most sought-af­ter pho­to­jour­nal­ists. He tells Me­lanie Abrams how he learnt his trade in the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

NOT EV­ERY CAN­DI­DATE ap­ply­ing for the bach­e­lor of fine arts de­gree at the School of Vis­ual Arts, New York, presents a port­fo­lio doc­u­ment­ing mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in Gaza, the West Bank and Le­banon. But this is how Jonathan Tor­gov­nik’s pho­to­graphic ca­reer took off in the early 1990s.

The Is­raeli, now 38, had amassed the body of work dur­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice as a pho­tog­ra­pher in the Is­rael Defence Forces’ Spokesper­son’s Unit. “I was sent into the field with­out any in­struc­tion and told to take pic­tures,” he says. “They just told me to go out there and shoot, but in­stead of a gun, I had a cam­era.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence “made me re­alise that I wanted to be a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, un­der­stand the com­mit­ment in­volved and made me de­ter­mined to pur­sue the pro­fes­sion for the rest of my ca­reer”.

Fast for­ward to 2007, and Tor­gov­nik’s dreams have be­come a re­al­ity. Based in New York, his ca­reer is flour­ish­ing. His por­traits and doc­u­men­tary news fea­tures ap­pear in mag­a­zines and news­pa­per around the world. This month, he won the Lon­don Na­tional Por­trait Gallery’s pres­ti­gious pho­to­graphic por­trait prize.

Prom­i­nent fig­ures in­clud­ing Donna Karan and Ed­die Iz­zard have posed for him. Since 2005, he has been a con­tract pho­tog­ra­pher with Newsweek and has pub­lished Bol­ly­wood Dreams, a book in­spired by his trav­els across In­dia.

Tor­gov­nik’s win­ning im­age for the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery prize is of a mother and her two chil­dren out­side their home in Rwanda. It comes from his latest project, In­tended Con­se­quences: Moth­ers of Geno­cide, Chil­dren of Rape, a se­ries which doc­u­ments the lives of Tutsi women raped dur­ing the Rwan­dan geno­cide of 1994 and their chil­dren who were born as a re­sult. It is a sub­ject Tor­gov­nik cares pas­sion­ately about.

“The first thing that strikes you is how beau­ti­ful they are. And then you look at the mother’s eyes. On the sur­face, this is a por­trait of a beau­ti­ful mother and her chil­dren. Her beauty is there, yes, but there is some­thing quiet and ter­ri­ble be­hind that.”

The por­trait was taken af­ter Tor­gov­nik had in­ter­viewed the mother in the pho­to­graph, Jose­line Ingabira, about her ex­pe­ri­ences. “When the geno­cide started, Jose­line was mar­ried and two months preg­nant. The mili­tia came to her vil­lage and bru­tally killed her hus­band in front of her.” Jose­line was raped through­out her preg­nancy, and again af­ter she gave birth to her hus­band’s daugh­ter. She even­tu­ally be­came preg­nant with her sec­ond daugh­ter as a re­sult of th­ese rapes, and also be­come in­fected with HIV. Both daugh­ters ap­pear in the pic­ture with her.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of his in­ter­views with Jose­line and 29 other women is still raw. “It was hor­rific. Th­ese strong women go­ing through the most hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ence, times 100. It was unimag­in­able. And emo­tion­ally drain­ing to hear their ex­pe­ri­ences and how they still af­fect them.” Jonathan Tor­gov­nik’s prize-win­ning pho­to­graph is be­ing dis­played at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don un­til Fe­bru­ary 24

Above: Jonathan Tor­gov­nik and (top) his prize-win­ning im­age of a Rwan­dan mother and her chil­dren. Right: a pho­to­graph from his Bol­ly­wood se­ries

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