Stanley Greene’s “Black Passport”

American photojournalist Stanley Greene was  in a pensive mood recently as he spoke to an audience of photographers at Paris’ Maison Européenne de la photographie (MEP) about his new biographical book “Black Passport.”

The book shows Greene’s war images alternated with private images. In it we make acquaintance with Stanley’s friends, his wife (later ex-wife), his female friends and his colleagues. Just as Greene himself, the viewer experiences being tossed to and fro between the safe western life and the horrors of wars elsewhere.

The basis of “Black Passport” (in addition to the photography) is a long monologue by Greene recorded by Teun van der Heijden, who edited several interviews he made with the photographer into a sort of film script with 26 short scenes. The scenes do not form a sequential story, but are a kaleidoscope of Greene’s key experiences. In the first scene, we meet him for example as an ‘au pair’ in Paris, in scene 20 he bursts into tears following the lynching of two American security officers in the Iraqi Fallujah.

“I think you can only do this for eight years.” says Greene. “For eight years you can still keep the positive. If you stay at it longer than eight years, you turn. And not into a beautiful butterfly. You really turn. I see it in myself, I see it in all my friends and colleagues. I mean they are all victims of post trauma. We’re not the beautiful butterflies anymore. We become moths. We’re like moths flying to the flame. You know, sometimes your wings get singed or you just burn up. Get killed. Or you burn up inside. The drugs and the alcohol and the party and all of this is to push it away, push it away.”

Greene  started out as a fashion photographer in Paris, and after publishing a book on Paris night life, the black American photographer from New York decided to move into the direction of documentary photography. In a time of massive changes such as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, he travelled through the former Eastern bloc and took photographs in the Caucusus. At the start of the ’90s, he found himself in the middle of the Chechnya War, the conflict that Greene was to follow for more than ten years. It became a personal mission for him, which resulted in 2004 in the book “Open Wound.”

Turning the pages of Greene’s new book we wonder with him what motivates someone to be confronted with death and misery?  Does a war photographer see it as a task to lend a voice to the oppressed of the world? Is it political engagement? Or is being a war photographer an escape from the day-to-day reality, a craving for adventure? As Greene answered questions from young photographers in the audience at MEP he gave the impression that these are questions he is still pondering.

Stanley Greene’s photos “La Route de l’Enfer” (Elevator to Hell) are exhibited until Jan. 30, 2010 at the Fait & Cause Gallery, 58, rue Quincampoix, 75004 Paris.