Documentary Episode: Photographers Without Borders in Bosnia with Project 1948

December 1, 2017

Last night I came home after drinking at the bar, cuddled up with my husband on the couch, and smiled for about 13 minutes straight as I finally watched the Photographers Without Borders ‘PWB TV’ documentary episode we made in Bosnia and Herzegovina last spring, working with and meeting the young people who are trying to change a country that’s creeping its way to recovery after a brutal civil war and genocide in the early ’90s. Check the video out—I think it speaks for itself.

Wait. Hold up. You were in Bosnia?

Yeah—I totally was. In May last year I spent about a month living in a little flat in Soukbunar in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was there with awesome PWB founder and photographer/videographer/goddess Danielle Da Silva, and videographer Jeff Garriock from Toronto. Photographers Without Borders is an NGO that matches photographers and videographers with NGOs that need to document their work.

The NGO whose story we were following was Project 1948, a photo-voice program that gives cameras to youth from different ethnic backgrounds in Sarajevo and brings them together toto express concerns and explore questions about life in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina.

How photography helps build relationships

One of the reasons I loved Project 1948 was the medium for their mission: photography. Photos, videos, stories—they all bring us a little closer together. Seeing the students who participated in the project embrace their roles as photographers and speak to what was important to them really made my heart sing. They were also invaluable in showing us around town when we were lost, recommending places to eat and drink, and filling us in on all the sides of the war and post-war feelings so we had a better picture of what’s going on in Bosnia today.

If photography can do anything, it can humanize struggle, and turn our fear of the unknown into empathy for others.

After the Bosnian war, what is the Bosnian future

The breakup of Yugoslavia, affecting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia started in the ’80s, with political instability in the region, and reached a crisis point in the early ’90s when the ethnic wars started. Even though the Bosnian War ended in December 1995, the series of wars in the region left long-term economic and political damage. Not to mention, many who could left the area as refugees, leaving the country’s population decimated, and frustrated.

When I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, I couldn’t believe something comparable to World War II atrocities had happened there in my lifetime. In one surreal encounter, I met a girl my age who remembers being in a concentration camp as a child.

And yet, many young people still have no idea what exactly happened during the breakup of Yugoslavia. I certainly didn’t.

Before I went their history was a dark spot in my brain. “There was a war in the early ‘90s. It was bad.”

Little did I imagine during my month there some of the stories I’d hear: Women who’d lost their entire families and were fighting for justice and recognition of their families’ mass graves, UN workers posted in a country that doesn’t trust them for abandoning them during the Srebrenica genocide, young people who feel they have to give up their dreams to economically survive, LGBTQ+ couples who can’t even hold hands in public, and young people trying to create a future in a country with a 40% unemployment rate and mistrust of the government.

Oh, and did I mention three presidents who represent each major ethnicity take turns running the country, and that the only post-war census is in dispute? Confused yet? Welcome to Bosnia. 

Bosnian war crimes still being prosecuted

Through fluke or intuition this episode ended up coming out at a timely moment—last week the Hague sentenced former Bosnian Serb army leader Ratko Mladic to life in prison, after he was found guilty of genocide for atrocities committed during the Bosnian war. A few days later, a former Bosnian Croat general,  Slobodan Praljak, died after swallowing poison at the Hague during his appeal to his 20-year sentence for war crimes.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with a lot of ghosts, and a lot of will for change. If I learned anything from Amer, Kenan, Jusuf, Belma, Adnan, Tea, and the other Project 1948 participants, it’s that there is a hunger, determination, and love to make their country a beautiful place.

I’m so honoured to have had the chance to work on this project. It’s definitely left me hungry for more NGO work in the future. I’d love to hear what you think and if you’ve worked with an NGO, what your experience was.

I hope you enjoy the episode, and check out their other project episodes too—there are a lot of amazing stories in there. One of my favourites is HAART Kenya, a powerful story from an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking.

[left to right] Photographers Without Borders Founder Danielle Da Silva, Photographers Without Borders Photographer Mel Hattie, and Project 1948 Founder Jenifer White, PhD.
[left to right] Photographers Without Borders Founder Danielle Da Silva, Photographers Without Borders Photographer Mel Hattie, and Project 1948 Founder Jenifer White, PhD. At the Project 1948 Student Gallery Exposition at Galerija Boris Smoje in Sarajevo.
Learn more about Photographers Without Borders:
Learn more about Project 1948:


Created by Danielle Da Silva

Directed by Danielle Da Silva & Jeffrey Garriock

Photographed by Mel Hattie

Edited by Gabriel Freire