The landscapes and landmines of Bosnia and Herzegovina

01 May 2014

AN EERIE STILLNESS PERVADES the landscapes of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the photographs of Brett Van Ort. These images, part of Van Ort’s Minescapes series, recall the American photographer Robert Adams’ seminal black-and-white photographs from the 1980s of the San Bernardino Valley in California. Van Ort cites Adams as an influence, but while the latter’s San Bernardino pictures show traces of human habitation, many of Van Ort’s lush, almost primordial landscapes seem untouched by human construction or destruction.

The landscapes, however, are only one part of Minescapes. Van Ort juxtaposes them with clinical photographs, shot against white backgrounds, of landmines and prosthetic body parts. These serve as a stark reminder that Bosnia and Herzegovina is still littered with leftover military explosives from the brutal ethnic war that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992.

In 2009, the year Van Ort travelled to the country, the government’s Mine Action Committee for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHMAC) estimated that 3.5 percent of the country still contained landmines. Several deminers Van Ort spoke to, however, believed that the figure actually stood closer to 10 percent. In the majority of cases, the deployment of explosives during the war was never documented; in many places their locations were known only to soldiers on the ground. Despite extensive efforts to clear unexploded ordnance, deminers said more mines continued to be unearthed, especially after torrential downpours. In 2009, old explosives caused 28 casualties in Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, a research group affiliated to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Van Ort was told to be careful—that nowhere in the countryside was truly safe.

Brett Van Ort is a photographer living in Los Angeles, USA. His work has been featured in American Photography 26, PDN Photo Annual, the New York Times, and Vice magazine.

Keywords: military civil war ethnic violence Bosnia photo essay conflict resolution landmines landscape photography