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Note: The sequence of images in this feature was updated Jan. 8, 2013. 

American Special forces, guns trained and at the ready, stand outside a fortified compound on foreign soil. Cast in midnight shadow, the well-armed and night-vision-equipped troops communicate with hand motions and brief radio exchanges.

What follows is a stunningly efficient raid — carefully choreographed — with the requisite shouted commands, sporadic gunfire, and the low-hummed whirr of helicopter blades. Through it all, photographer Jonathan Olley was there.

But these bullets and bombs were mere props. The soldiers: actors instead. The drama: cinematic climate written and directed by the movie industry’s best. But in the world of Hollywood, Jonathan Olley’s photographs are almost too real.

Many Americans have likely seen Olley’s work, even if they don’t know the photographer by name. With his images plastered on the sides of bus stop vestibules or subway station walls, on billboards, print advertisements and even the cover of Newsweek, Jonathon Olley is the stills photographer for this year’s Oscar-hopeful Zero Dark Thirty.

The film, from Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the career of one female American intelligence officer, played by Jessica Chastain. While the film has received criticism —from politicians and the military, not to mention historians who challenge the film portrayal of events— the virulence of the critiques may fairly reflect how realistic the movie is presented.

“What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film,” Bigelow told the The New Yorker in an interview about the movie last December. Who better to photograph a movie about a war, than a photojournalist who had seen one up close.

As a 27-year-old photographer, Jonathan Olley traveled to Sarajavo, a city under siege as Yugoslavia slowly broke apart. Packed and ready to leave on February 5, 1994, Olley was footsteps from the city’s main market when a violent explosion rocked his career forever.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Markale market masacre during the Siege of Sarajevo, which killed 68 and wounded 200. 1994.

The mortar, responsible for the deaths of 68 people and the wounding of 200, left a near-dazed Olley reeling amidst the chaos of the scene.

“I made some photographs of the place in a haphazard and panicky way” he remembers. “At that point, I got grabbed by some men and had a gun put in my mouth.”

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

British Army's 19th Field Ambulance high on the mountain plain of Bosnia-Herzegovina protect a wounded soldier from the downwash of a Royal Navy Sea King. Sipovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Former Yugoslavia. 1996.

For Olley, those moments served as “catalyst” in his professional career, illustrating how photographers could become part of the stories they covered, and could even create conflict while trying only to bear witness.

“That day made me think about what my position in all of this was,” he said. “In the end, the risks” — by this he means for himself and the people he photographed— “were not worth the news agenda of the day.”

More than a decade after that fateful event, Olley was introduced to Hollywood director Paul Greengrass, who hired him as photographer for the film Green Zone, a movie about the fruitless search for nuclear weapons in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted-Uranium tipped weapon. Al-Amarah, Maysan, Iraq. 2004.

Today, with three films under his belt, Olley says his commercial photography work on Green Zone, The Hurt Locker and now Zero Dark Thirty, requires the same skill and attention to detail as covering any war.

“You don’t really get a lot of access and you have to find your position in the maelstrom of activity.” Olley told TIME in an interview from his home in London. “Like conflict photography, shooting film stills is about being in a place where no one really wants you to be and making it work.”

Because still photographers are “non-essential” for the production process, he said — the photographs are used primarily to promote the movie when complete — the stills photographer is often the first victim of ornery directors, aggressive producers, or mercurial actors. If filming is going poorly, or the timing just isn’t right, photographers can be asked — politely or otherwise — to leave.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Zimbabwean de-miners in full protective clothing in Al-Zubai-Dat, Iran on the Iraqi border.

“Some actors are a little bit like racehorses: great to watch, but tough to deal with,” he jokes. In spite of the tensions, though, Olley is quick to add that many of Hollywood’s best actors — from Matt Damon to Jennifer Chastain — understand the importance of a film’s still photography and that working with these professionals at their best is “a privilege.”

Yet, as journalistic as his commercial images might look, and as close to reality as some Hollywood films have become, Olley views his film work as a means to other personal and professional ends.

“To me it’s like any other job,” said Olley, whose latest project, large format photography looking at the legacy of empire in Ireland, has received interest from the Tate Modern museum in London.

Despite the challenges of photographing the silver screen, Olley’s film experiences have been his most professionally forgiving, he said.

With scenes getting multiple takes — professional “second chances”— he has more opportunities to capture the valuable, powerful moments. However, for Olley — so nearly killed while covering conflict — there is comfort in the security of a Hollywood set.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Victim of shell splinters from a Serbian mortar-round. Jewish Community Centre, Central Sarajevo. 1994.

“At least in this business, you don’t die when you get it wrong,” he said.

Jonathan Olley is a photographer based in London.

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On May 28, 1993, a remote and dusty thicket of the Australian outback shook for hundreds of miles around. Deep reverberating explosions could be heard far and wide, the night sky illuminated by sporadic flashes of unexplained light—all this allegedly witnessed by heavy goods drivers, gold prospectors and nomads traipsing the bush. Three truckers even spoke to an Australian geologist about the lights, claiming that they’d seen a “moon-sized fireball” which flew “from south to north with the speed of a jet plane.” They said “it was yellow-orange in colour and had a small blue-white tail, which lit up the sky as it headed immediately west for Banjawarn station.”

The strange event registered just shy of 4.0 on the Richter scale. Its blast could be heard over a radius of 90 square miles. The Australian government later dismissed the mysterious temblor as “probably being natural in origin”. IRIS, the U.S. federal seismology agency, said that the Earth-shaking detonation was “170 times larger than the largest mining explosion ever recorded in that Australian region” and was proven to have the force of a nuclear bomb.

Some scientists speculated that it could’ve been a meteorite. But authorities found no signs of a crater as they searched for one via helicopter. Despite the fact that the epicentre of the ominous blast pointed in all directions to a remote research facility manned by Aum Shinrikyo, the notorious Japanese death-cult noted for its attempts at mining uranium and its grim obsession with alternative weapons technology, the whole event was eventually shrugged off and forgotten about.

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Free beer!    No sorry, free portfolio reviews

 

It is past midnight.. It is late and it smells late..I leave for France in the afternoon tomorrow…I have not packed, nor have I ever learned to pack for any trip in all these years. Always get it wrong. Working on it. I am headed for four days of Magnum meeting followed by four days of Les Rencontres d’Arles arguably one of the most important international photography assemblages. After days of biz meeting with Magnum I am sure many would cut both ears off instead of one as did VanGogh in this fair charming south of France town.

Yet I always go. Never missed an annual gathering of the tribe since 1993 when I became a Magnum nominee and forever changed my life. I have already been to two photo fests this spring, am burned out on the social scene, and would not go to one now were Magnum not meeting on this 65th year in this historic Arles. The vibes in Arles buzz in way as in no other place.

My little book from 1967, Tell It Like It Is,  gets its two minutes of fame along with 10 other Magnum photographers who are participating on a presentation called “First Time”. Addressing the evening audience on July 3 with their first work, their first important work. The work that took them forward. For me this is bracketed with my recent Rio novella (based on a true story) entering the prestigious Library Actes Sud and a book signing at Les Rencontres. So my “first time” and my most recent. All the while surrounded by terrific exhibitions and evening presentations.

Burn will also have a stand where we will do free (buy me a beer) portfolio reviews. “We” being the entire Burn staff: Anton Kusters, Diego Orlando, Eva-Maria Kunz, Candy Pilar Godoy and Claudia Paladini. I do not think we have EVER had all of us together in one place. We work by remote control. By Skype. By text message (should be illegal) and by brain debilitating email. Fate has brought us all together. We are electric. On fire. BurnMagazine, BurnBooks, and BurnUniversity are all happening. Details on all will follow after the Burn gang meets after the Magnum meeting.

It all blends anyway. Magnum’s new website may unleash a whole new Magnum. For sure exciting times. Times to reinvent, times to invent, times to push push the proverbial envelope just as far as we can without losing the thing Magnum members care about the most. A place in history. A seat at the table. Burn seeks to help find new talent and celebrate the icons who may be a beacon for those forging ahead with oftentimes a wrinkled map.

If you are anywhere near the south of France June 3-8 please stop by. If you are on the other side of the world and have a lot of miles to cash in, now is the time. Everyone in this Burn audience knows well they have input in what goes on around here. Either with their voice or their pictures. Burn eliminates a lot of excuses. If you have something to say, you can say it right here and you are reaching an impressive cross section of our craft. Both the photographers and the editors and a lot of well versed serious photographer who choose photography as an avocation, rather than as a business.

I only write tonight and rambled this long to avoid the inevitable packing I must do. So let me get to it. Wishing all of you a pleasant morning/evening and ask you to stay tuned as I report from Arles in the week upcoming to flow alongside our EPF finalists.

-dah-

 

Williston, North Dakota, from the Magnum project Looking For America, May 2012

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Emerging Photographer Fund – 2012 Recipient

 

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EPF 2012 Finalist

 

Matt Lutton

“Only Unity”: Serbia In The Aftermath of Yugoslavia

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“Only Unity” has emerged from five years of living and working in the Balkans; it is my personal response to the confounding atmosphere of the region. My project presents a psychological portrait of Serbs from across the Balkans as they confront a radically changed landscape within physically contracting borders. Serbia is emerging from the hangover of the 1990s, where atrocities were carried out in their name just across newborn borders, and constructive reflection about the consequences of those years is long over due.

I am photographing details of society that both reflect and undermine the popular Serbian creation myths. Many issues are rooted in the complicated phrase “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” which was popular in the narrative of mass political manipulation during the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars that took place in its vacuum. Serbia is still recovering from the post-traumatic stress of those years, leading to a national confusion about their identity and a productive path forward.

There are many elements that contribute to a hostile and sometimes desperate atmosphere in Serbia today. But there too are moments that show healing and a glimpse at a different future than many have seen for themselves in the last decade. The growing pains of this nascent democracy must continue to be carefully documented and explored, as the battles of the 1990s have yet to be finally played out. I’ve experienced alarming apathy and lack of compassion from many youth across the Balkans, and I hope to confront them directly with a different picture of the countries and history they will inherit. I hope my pictures will help bridge local borders, real and imagined.

 

Bio

Matt Lutton (b. 1984) is an American photographer who has been living in Belgrade, Serbia, since 2009. He was raised in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies and Comparative History of Ideas. He is the co-founder of the online photojournalism website Dvafoto, which began in 2005. His project “Homeless in Seattle” was awarded a grant by the Alexia Foundation for World Peace in 2007 and was exhibited at the Seattle City Hall in July 2008. The Anthropographia Award for Human Rights and Photography selected his project “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” about the destruction and relocation of the Roma community living in Belgrade, Serbia, for their 2010 traveling exhibition. His current project about the Serbian emergence from the Milosevic decade and its role in post-war Balkans is titled “Only Unity” and was nominated for the POYi Emerging Vision Incentive in 2010.

 

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This month marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War, a long, complex, and ugly conflict that followed the fall of communism in Europe. In 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined several republics of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence, which triggered a civil war that lasted four years. Bosnia's population was a multiethnic mix of Muslim Bosniaks (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%), and Catholic Croats (17%). The Bosnian Serbs, well-armed and backed by neighboring Serbia, laid siege to the city of Sarajevo in early April 1992. They targeted mainly the Muslim population but killed many other Bosnian Serbs as well as Croats with rocket, mortar, and sniper attacks that went on for 44 months. As shells fell on the Bosnian capital, nationalist Croat and Serb forces carried out horrific "ethnic cleansing" attacks across the countryside. Finally, in 1995, UN air strikes and United Nations sanctions helped bring all parties to a peace agreement. Estimates of the war's fatalities vary widely, ranging from 90,000 to 300,000. To date, more than 70 men involved have been convicted of war crimes by the UN. [46 photos]

During the Bosnian War, cellist Vedran Smailovic plays Strauss inside the bombed-out National Library in Sarajevo, on September 12, 1992. (Michael Evstafiev/AFP/Getty Images)

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The photographs in the gallery above are from the book Bosnia 1992 – 1995, available July 2012. The book will be self-published by the photographers who covered the Bosnian conflict—which began 20 years ago today—and printed in Bosnia. The captions below these photographs are the personal reflections of the photographers on their experiences in the region.

If the last lines of the 20th century were written in Moscow in December 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the prelude to the 21st century was written months later—and 20 years ago this month—in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, as the disorderly break-up of Yugoslavia turned into genocide. In that bloody April, America’s moment of triumph over totalitarianism was transformed into a tribalist nightmare as Bosnian Serbs, determined to seize large parts of Bosnia as part of a plan to create a Greater Serbia, targeted Muslims for extermination. What some at the time hoped was just a communist death-rattle at the periphery of the Soviet empire, now looks like the birth cries of our current geopolitical reality.

In Bosnia the U.S. learned it would preside over a world where borders and ideology mattered less and transnational allegiances of ethnicity and sectarianism mattered more. Interviewed by TIME in August 1995, weeks after his troops had slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys near the town of Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, now on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, declared he was acting out of fear of a new Islamic push through the Balkans to Europe. “By this demographic explosion Muslims are overflowing not only the cradle of Christianity in the Balkans but have left their tracks even in the Pyrenees,” Mladic said.

As the slaughter unfolded in Bosnia, and Europe and the U.S. belatedly mustered the will to stop it, Western attitudes towards the post-Cold War world took shape, as well. Neoconservatives and hawkish Democrats found common cause in humanitarian intervention. The media and the public learned from the NATO action in August and September 1995 and the Dayton peace agreement in November that American military might could impose stability—for a time. But 20 years later, with international military and police forces still keeping the peace in Bosnia, we have found there—and at much greater cost elsewhere—that an initially successful intervention by America’s unmatched armed forces cannot impose sectarian comity.

Massimo Calabresi covered the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as TIME’s Central Europe bureau chief from 1995 to 1999.

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