For the past two decades French-Malagasy photographer Guillaume Bonn reported on conflict and social issues in Darfur, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and Mauritania, mainly for The New York Times and other media like Time, Newsweek and The Guardian. He was one of the first journalists to cover the Darfur crisis from within Sudan, bringing world-wide attention to the crisis. Together with a journalist, Bonn also uncovered the sexual abuses committed on children by UN peacekeepers in Congo. No wonder the International Center of Photography in New York graduate has received several prizes and awards, and a grant from the Pulitzer center in 2014.
“My first adventure started at the age of six in the Danakil desert and has been going on ever since”, Bonn says. “I’m a storyteller who wants to tell a story that hasn’t been told yet, or one that in his opinion should be told differently.” Though based in Nairobi, where he grew up, Bonn spends most of his time in Paris nowadays. Yet he is an international citizen, East Africa being the place he has lived most and South Africa a country very well known to him. Very few countries in Africa have secrets for him. Usually working together with writers sent from Europe or the United States, he tries to teach them something about the continent, tries to make them see beyond the preconceived ideas and cliches that most have of the African continent. “I want to make them understand and realize that the situation is not that simple.”
A lot of what Bonn does these days is personal work, trying to tell stories that have not been told using all the experience he has acquired over the years. “It bores me to death when other photographers, usually foreigners, come to the continent and do a story that has already been done, not knowing it has been done before and without doing their research first. They might want to use the time they have on the continent to bring something fresh and offer a different view, but most of the time they’re in and out.”
Instagram is a whole different story for Bonn, describing it as a “window to where I am”: “Everyday Africa is an organization I’m very glad to be working with, because it’s great exposure and also because they publish some beautiful and interesting work.” For Bonn, having fun with his photography is very important. Staying creative is of the essence. “Being present online is very crucial these days. They say that the more followers you have the more important you are, but I really don’t think that means anything. Look at all the accounts that are followed by millions just posting pictures of pizzas or sexy women without clothes on; at the end of the day it should be about quality. Even if it’s just for Instagram. I’m not ready yet to post my in-depth stories that take a lot of time to produce and finance until someone figures out how we photographers can earn a living from that.”
Le Mal d’Afrique
Bonn is the author of three photographic books, including his first monograph ‘Le Mal d’Afrique, a journey into old and new Africa’, which was exhibited at the Nairobi National Museum and from which some photographs are now part of the permanent collection of the museum. He edited and also photographed with twelve other photographers for the book ‘Nairobi’; an exploration of the city published in 2009.
As a contributor to Vanity Fair magazine since 2002, he has been covering a range of stories from the conflict in North Uganda with the late Christopher Hitchens, and the murder of conservationist Joan Root near Lake Naivasha with Mark Seal, to the haute couture shows in Paris, to being the only invited photographer at the wedding of the son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
His last story is the now famous ‘Agony & Ivory’ on the African Elephants and the ivory trade, which brought needed attention worldwide to the genocide elephants are facing on the African continent. Bonn is currently working on two books. His next body of work, ‘Mosquito Coast, travels from Maputo to Mogadishu’ will be published by Hatje Cantz in November next year and launched at Paris Photo.