This is What I Learnt on the Days I Spent With a Committed Photographer


Getting to know and share ideas with Gervasio Sánchez may have been one of the most important and nurturing experiences that I have had in terms of photography. He is a Spanish Photojournalist with a fierce passion for documenting the truth. He visited our country to present the 3rd publication of his project “Vidas Minadas – 10 Años” (Mined Lives – 10 Years) where includes photographs of a fellow Salvadoran that was injured from a landmine in our civil war. He spent three days in our country and gave 3 lectures during that week for a sum of almost 10 hours of informative photography discussion.

As well as portraying the most vulnerable protagonists of the horrors of wars, he has followed them for many years, photographing and providing updates on the lives of those who remained alive. It was not difficult for me to see the true commitment that Gervasio has which is a real commitment with people who have experienced great misfortunes. He treats them with love and respect. This nature cannot only be felt in the way he speaks, but also by looking at his photographs.

During his continuous visits to the places that have been struck by human violence, he looks for answers which are rarely satisfied. I remember him speaking about one tragic event he witnessed in which a girl who was only 81-days old died after an attack to the civilians in Sarajevo. Every time he has the opportunity of visiting this place he brings her flowers because nobody else brings flowers to her grave. This showed me the great level of commitment that a photographer can actually have for things that go beyond documenting and informing. This is the dignity that countries need and Gervasio fiercely defends it to restore all the wounds that wars leave behind.

In Sarajevo he took pictures of the early injured Adis, a young man who suffered a lot thanks to an antipersonnel mine. Thanks to the efforts made by Gervasio and the media that works with him, Adis has been able to get access to several surgeries that have had a positive impact in his life. This kind of involvement is a constant recurrence in Gervasio’s life as he really cares about people and experiences like this make him a unique person indeed.

He is interested in telling stories through his photos as closely as possible. With experiences and examples like these, I have a better understanding of Capa's famous phrase “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”. This referred to not only the physical proximity of the photographer to the subject at the moment but also the emotional proximity. Through this, he highlighted the importance of gaining the trust of the subjects of our photographs.

With his lectures (and after-talks over beers), I learned many important things that have boosted my inner self and my vision of the world. With him, I learned that wars don’t end even when Wikipedia says they do. I also learned many other great things that cope clearly with truth and that I want to share with you.

Gervasio Sánchez and Me

Wars don’t end when the Wikipedia says they end

Wars end when the wounds of the war are completely healed. When all the missing people are finally recovered, dead or alive. The agony and the grief transition to a different state and closer to what we human beings could know as serenity or peace.

Everything has been documented

And since this is very much true, research is the key for approaching any subject. Every subject could have been done already, but with prior research you’ll be able to document everything with a different and unique perspective.

Photography can change the destiny of victims of war

With the testimony of Adis, I can conclude that photography can help people who experience misfortune get access to certain things that may be not material but will definitely improve their quality of life.

Victims can be portrayed with heart and soul

Many of the photographs in the book “Vidas Minadas – 10 Años” show people who have made their lives great even after tragedies with land mines.

Reading is everything and gear is irrelevant

He loves to read. Thanks to this, he is more informed about things that are happening around the world. And his position towards gear is simple, he doesn’t give cameras and lenses any more importance beyond being a tool of work.

Two important works that we can see from Gervasio are Vidas Minadas (Mined Lives) and Desaparecidos (Disappeared). These two long-term projects are centered on two edges of the atrocities of war with the eyes and soul that only his approach can reproduce.

Vidas Minadas is a tribute to all the victims of the landmines and to the people who have fiercely been fighting to achieve landmine  prohibition. This work shows in a subtle way, without any ostentation or exaggeration, the most powerful anti-war images of our time. He has been documenting the life of 12 landmine victims for more than 10 years, and he plans to continue this registry until his last days.

For Gervasio the subject of those who have disappeared is perhaps the most important to document. He understands that the unknown destiny of these loved ones are a frequent source of distress for those who continue to wait for them. This refers to his ideology around historical dates and statistics. Wars don’t end when a date is made official in history, wars end when people find their missing ones, alive or dead.

If you are able to understand Spanish, you can see this documentary that was made in Spain. And even if you cannot understand Spanish, why not watch it to get a better grasp on Gervasio’s work?

Gervasio, thanks a lot man for sharing your vision and for being a truly committed photographer with an admirable way of telling the stories of our world.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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