SUDAN 1998

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 below:

Paul Lowe's Sudan 1998 photographs

Sunday Times Magazine, 31 May 1998

Tom Stoddart’s 1998 Sudan photographs

The Guardian, 12 August 1998.