In 1997, a document titled A Study of Assassination was released by the CIA as part of the Freedom of Information Act. It is believed to have been created in 1953 with the purpose of instructing agents on how to kill, and was released with a collection of files relating to the 1954 CIA-backed overthrow of the-then newly-elected leader of Guatemala, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. The operation in Guatemala was lobbied for by United Fruit Company, an American corporation that traded in tropical fruit, mainly bananas, and which wielded huge power in Central America at the time.
When he found out about these documents, George Selley was instantly captivated, and his new project, A Study of Assassination, combines pages from the manual with archival press images, banana advertisements and Cold War propaganda. BJP caught up with the recent London College of Communication MA graduate to find out more about this project and his approach to images.
It’s disconcerting to think how years of work and effort, of countless hours spent practising and honing a skill, can be wrenched away from any of us in just a few minutes of misfortune. It’s also, for any of us used to good health, troubling to consider how reliant we are on the basic functionality of our bodies. A photographer, for example, needs to be able to hold a camera, to have the strength to frame a shot and time the click of the shutter in the heat of the moment. Shorn of that basic ability, what are we left with? Early one morning in May 2015, Sim had to face that exact question.
She was on assignment for a French newspaper, travelling to the Tumen Economic Development Zone, a government-owned complex of Chinese factories on the edge of the border with North Korea. Tumen employed North Korean labourers who, with state sanctioning, would be sent to live and work in the economic zone. The brief was to capture how North Korea and China trade. This place seemed like the perfect microcosm for that complex relationship – the makings of great pictures.
Entering Tumen with her driver and colleagues from Le Monde, she failed to spot a sign that read: “No smoking, photography, or practising driving”. As they approached the factories, the car passed a small group of women in black jumpsuits, knelt by the roadside picking weeds from the ground. Sitting in the driver’s seat with the window wound down, Sim instinctively raised her camera and fired off a couple of shots. “Almost immediately, the women turned around, ran towards the cab, and reached into the car,” she wrote in an article for ChinaFile, recounting events.
The film begins with Tim Hetherington trying to describe why he risks his life to tell stories from some of the world’s most dangerous regions. Eventually, he finds the right words: “I want to connect with real people, to document them in real circumstances, where there aren’t any neat solutions.” We then cut to footage he filmed in Misrata, Libya, on the morning of 20 April 2011. The country is in the midst of civil war, and the city is under siege by troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi. The Bee Gees’ How Deep is Your Love plays on the radio as we’re driven through the city by a rebel fighter in his early twenties, coolly smoking at the wheel, an AK-47 nestled by the gearstick and a grenade hanging from the dashboard. “Which way is the frontline from here?” Hetherington asks him, and he points straight forward. Hetherington and his photographer colleagues, Guy Martin, Chris Hondros and Guillermo Cervera, laugh at the sight of a high-rise building decimated by mortar fire. Later that afternoon, the group would …