In the first half of 1998, an estimated 250,000
people died in a famine centred upon the Bahr el Ghazal region in
south-western Sudan. Despite the fact that southern Sudan has been
subject to a permanent relief operation since the formation of the
UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan a decade earlier, early warning
indicators of impending disaster in 1998 were ignored, and relief
supplies were slow in coming.
Sporadic television reports of a new famine led two
well-known British photojournalists to the region to document the
event. In April 1998, Paul Lowe, then a Magnum photographer on assignment
for the Sunday Times Magazine, travelled via Kenya to Ajiep in Sudan.
Paul shot some fifty rolls of colour film, and presented the magazine
with an edit of some thirty five images to select a story from.
Accompanied by A. A. Gill’s article, the resulting photo essay
appeared on 31 May 1998. The photographs were also sold to other
publications internationally, including Time magazine which ran
a story entitled “Why is this happening again?” in their
27 July 1998 issue. Paul’s photo essay won two honours –
for best single news picture, and best news story – at that
year’s Alfred Eisenstat awards in the US.
In July 1998, driven by a commitment but without a
commission, Tom Stoddart, then of the Independent Photographers
Group, flew to southern Sudan. Like Paul Lowe, Tom received some
assistance from Médecin san Fontières in Ajiep. Working
in black and white, Tom returned to the UK with more than forty
rolls of powerful images and presented them to The Guardian’s
picture editor Eamon McCabe. The Guardian ran some of the images
in its 12 August 1998 issue, including one on the front page. With
an MSF fundraising phone number in the text – put there at
the photographer’s request – the images helped raise
more than £40,000. The image used on page one was awarded
the best black and white photograph at the Picture Editor’s
Awards in 1998.
Each photographer selected ten images from these photo
essays for display in the Imaging Famine exhibition. All the photographs,
plus their original use in the media, can be accessed by the links
Lowe's Sudan 1998 photographs
Magazine, 31 May 1998
1998 Sudan photographs
12 August 1998.