Between Shadow and Light
plus an audio interview with the
photographer by Jim Casper
For more than 30 years, Christine
Spengler has traveled to the world’s hot spots and documented the
consequences of war, as seen primarily from the points of view of women
and children. Her images are raw, poignant, traumatic, tender, unforgettable,
and many times, surreal. They have been reproduced prominently in the
world’s leading news magazines and newspapers, and she has been
the recipient of many awards and accolades.
Her images stand apart from what we typically think of as war photography,
partly because she is a woman and has access to situations that men do
not, or that may not have necessarily interested male photographers.
Her sense of visual drama was influenced by many childhood visits to art
museums in Madrid, where she got to know the paintings of Velázquez,
Goya and Bosch.
Her photos rarely show bloody wounds, violent skirmishes or dead bodies.
Instead we discover people attempting to have some sort of ordinary life
in the vast, empty smoking ravages of bombed-out landscapes. She shows
us children clowning and playing with glee in the midst of the horrors
of war. A bride in her white wedding gown, laughing giddily in front of
a demolished building. A young Vietnamese girl quietly polishing the boots
of American soldiers. A young mother holding her baby in one arm and a
machine gun in the other, her eyes wary.
Spengler discovered her vocation “by accident” at the age
of 23 while traveling through Chad with her young brother, who was a fashion
photographer. They happened upon some barefoot rebels firing guns up at
French helicopters, and she felt the impulse to photograph the bizarre
scene instantly. Her brother handed her a Nikon with a wide-angle lens,
and that became her sole camera for many years. She still uses it today.
That incident, however, got them arrested as spies. But after their release
from the French-run prison in Africa, she pursued her newfound career
with fearless and fierce energy.
She traveled alone to Northern Ireland, where Don McCullin befriended
her and gave her professional guidance and encouragement. From there,
she went to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iran,
Iraq…on and on.
A wonderful retrospective book of her work to date is available in French.
She has just written her autobiography, which has been published in Spain
and will be published in a French language version in the Spring of 2006.
Of course there are many intriguing and fascinating stories about each
photo, and about her life, her career and some personal tragedies. She’s
an engaging story teller, and she was kind enough to sit down with me
in her Paris apartment to recount some of her tales — in English
— as audio recordings. I’ve taken the liberty to edit them
somewhat and break them into logical chapters.
Chapter One (audio
13 minutes). Christine Spengler talks about discovering her vocation,
her work in Chad, and her arrest as a suspected spy; Northern Ireland
and Don McCullin; and her first assignment, to go to Bangladesh, which
inadvertently got her a contract with Life magazine.
Chapter Two (audio
19 minutes) finds her surprised to be famous already at a young age, with
photos in Life, Paris Match and other popular magazines and newspapers.
She buys a solo one-way ticket to Saigon, and on arrival, asks AP for
a chance to photograph at the front. She seems to have charmed everyone
who encountered her, and brought back images reminiscent of Apocalypse
Check back here later for additional audio chapters with Christine Spengler.
— Jim Casper
News and events about Christine Spengler can be found on
her personal blog: christinespengler.blogspot.com/
Années de Guerre
by Christine Spengler
Hardcover, French, 224 pages,
96 full page duotone photographs
Publisher: Marval (March 7, 2003)
Buy on Amazon
Be sure to pick up a copy of her new autobiography just released in