Recording dignity and horror

You may not know Jan Sibik’s name but you will certainly recognize some of the images captured by the Czech photojournalist in his exhibition «The Devil within Us» at the Melina Cultural Center. Hands clutching for bread through the window of a bakery in Albania; families struggling to slip past border guards in FYROM; children and adults living with amputations forced on them during the civil war in Sierra Leone – many of his photographs have become icons of suffering. From uprisings and massacres to famine and earthquakes around the world, Sibik has documented them in photographs. These are confrontational images, and they are meant to be. The title of the exhibition rightly includes the viewer and the photographer – this is our troubled world he records. At the opening of his exhibition last Tuesday, Kathimerini English Edition asked Sibik about photographing people in such dire situations. «It’s a very unpleasant feeling,» he said, «I get into very personal moments, with those people, because I’m there, I’m present. I’m an element that shouldn’t be there when other people are suffering and their loved ones are dying, but I’m there.» Sibik never takes photographs without the consent of his subjects. His discomfort comes more from the fact that he is fighting himself, he explained, adding: «What’s always very surprising to me is that they don’t mind; they accept me and they even try to help me take my pictures.» And the photojournalist, a gentle, personable man, clearly knows how to reassure. «Sometimes it takes so little to show you care,» he said, «a caress or a greeting in their language. They can feel it.» There is more to Sibik’s pictures than horror. Amid scenes of fear and inconceivable cruelty, he has also recorded the indomitable human spirit, which retains its dignity and enables people to survive even the grimmest situations. The winner of numerous awards for his work, Sibik also gives practical help to people he has photographed, initiating aid projects that have raised money for maimed children in Sierra Leone and people with AIDS in Odessa. This exhibition, jointly organized by Athens Municipality’s Cultural Organization and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Athens, contains examples of Sibik’s work from 1988 to 2000. Melina Cultural Center, 66 Irakleidon & Thessalonikis, Thiseion, tel 210.345.2150. Open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. & 5-9 p.m. daily, except Monday and Sunday afternoon, till January 10, 2006.