Conflicts on the African continent claimed another journalist last week. Camille Lepage, a 26-year-old French photojournalist, is the latest reporter to pay the ultimate price for trying to inform the world of the violence against unarmed civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Lepage’s body was found on May 15 by French peacekeepers in a village near the town of Bouar, CAR, in a car driven by Christian militia fighters known as Anti-Balaka.
The Central African Republic has been marred by conflict since 2012 when the Muslim faction Seleka and the Anti-Balaka began warring over control of the territory. Lepage is the first western journalist to be killed in the fighting.
She specialized in photojournalism in Africa, notably in Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. She explained that her motivation was to cover news stories that mainstream media tend to ignore. “I can’t accept that people’s tragedies are silenced simply because no one can make money out of them,” she said.
Emotions ran high after the news of her death broke, especially among her colleagues in the news industry and in communities with an interest in human rights and African affairs.
Writer Gannon Burgett wrote an emotional eulogy on petapixel.com, in which he described Lepage's website as a “leading blog covering the wonderful world of photography”:
Heart-breaking news came out of Bangui, Central African Republic today. It has been confirmed that 26-year-old French photojournalist Camille Lepage, who we had the honor of interviewing just six months ago, has been killed while covering the ongoing crisis there
She had a passion for shedding light on the world’s ignored conflicts, and her compassion and dedication for her craft and her subject alike seem to shine through with every snap of the shutter. The French Presidency has released a statement saying that, “All means necessary will be used to shed light on to the circumstances of this murder and to find her killers.”
This article elicited several reactions from readers. Commenter “tiger” wrote:
The conflict in Central Africa is very intense and dangerous and what you would call a red zone. It is actually one of the more dangerous areas in Africa. A very dangerous job I doubt many photo journalists would want to take. It was very courageous of her and not only that she was with one of the militia forces. It is very possible that while she was riding around with them, they were flanked by the opposing militia force and taken out by surprise. Very sad for such a young person with a lot of potential.
Based on his personal experience as a reporter in Mexico, “Ridgecity“ wrote about how the death of a fellow reporter touched him:
Tragic loss, even not knowing her, seeing a fellow photographer have a tragic death is horrible. There are trendy magazines like Roling [sic] Stone or Vice Magazine that like to cover these human crisis and offer young people jobs like this, and don't even consider their security. Sadly, this happens all the time when photographers think they are untouchable with a extremely dangerous “I'm the press” mentality.
I live in Mexico and this place is the worst ever for journalists and even regular photographers. You ALWAYS have to put your safety first and don't think twice about leaving any place where someone has a weapon. They always target the cameras first. That's something they don't teach you in college.
Since I was very little, I’ve always wanted to go and live in a place where no one else wants to go, and cover in-depth conflict related stories. I followed thoroughly the independence process of South Sudan and was shocked by the little coverage it got… plus all the pessimism around it really annoyed me.
Then, while doing research, I discovered the conflict in the Nuba Mountains. I became even more outraged by the fact that, except from a few media, no one talked about it. It became an obvious choice, I had to go and report from there. Yet, as a first experience in Africa, it seemed like a dangerous one. So I was trying to find alternatives.
I thought about moving to Uganda and going back and forth between the two countries. Then I realized I could probably get a job in a local paper and start within a structure instead of throwing myself out there with no contact, no portfolio and above all very little experience. So that’s what I did.
A reader of the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, Jacques Vissy, wrote the following about Lepage's legacy:
On ne peut qu'être respectueux de sa volonté et admiratif de son courage. Elle est partie jeune mais son sens de l'engagement et de la vérité des faits l'a déjà inscrite comme la digne héritière de la lignée des Capa, McCullin, et autres Schoendoerffer.
One can only respect her will and be in awe of her courage. She left us too soon but her sense of commitment to the facts and the truth already makes her as a worthy successor of such great journalists such as Capa, McCullin and Schoendoerffer.
Before her CAR assignment, Lepage worked in South Sudan. The variety of subjects she covered is impressive. A snippet of her assignments for mainstream media, NGOs and humanitarian institutions can be seen on her blog:
- South Sudan: “You will forget me” 24 pics
- South Sudan: “Vanishing youth” 17 pics
- South Sudan: “We call it fashion” 26 pics
- CAR: “On est ensemble” 17 pics
At 26, she had already been published by the following media outlets: The New York Times, Time Magazine, Le Monde, Vice, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Amnesty Press, LA Times, Al Jazeera, Libération, Le Parisien Magazine, Le Parisien, Le Nouvel Observateur, Jeune Afrique, La Croix, Internazionale, DVAfoto, Le Journal de la Photographie and more.
The following organizations also published her work: Human Rights Watch, Médecins Sans Frontières, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Amnesty International, Mercy Corps, Handicap International, World Food Programme, Internews, Crown Agents, Solidarité.
The last message she posted on Facebook reported the danger Muslims face in the CAR:
Muslim men take a taxi from the IDP camp in Bangui after the evening prayer to go to the bus station and take a bus to Cameroon on the next day. They have no other choice but to leave at dark so the local population won't see them and hopefully won't attack them.
In Bangui, attacks on Muslims take place everyday in the last 3 areas where Muslim remain. The attackers want them to leave or die and will do everything they can so no Muslim remain in the country.