This is What a Photograph Can Do

Bunia, August 2003. 3 youths ranging from a boy to adolescent to young man all bear arms in the same Lendu militia unit on the road between Bunia and Marabou where killings occurred regularly. Roger LeMoyne/Alexia Foundation

Bunia, August 2003. 3 youths ranging from a boy to adolescent to young man all bear arms in the same Lendu militia unit on the road between Bunia and Marabou where killings occurred regularly. Roger LeMoyne/Alexia Foundation

Damien Roussat visited the United Nations Headquarters in New York as a young man in 2006 during the time The Alexia Foundation had its exhibition Eyes on the World on display in the lobby of the building. Last month, Roussat reached out to us. One of the photographs at the headquarters had shaken his worldview and changed the course of his life. This is the power of the photograph. This is why we believe in and support photography that drives change.

I deeply connected with the boy on the picture and strongly… I wanted to save the world for this kind of situation never to occur again

The image that Roussat saw was a huge color photograph of an African child soldier (probably from Congo or Sierra Leone.) The child was looking directly into the camera, smiling and holding a Kalashnikov.

Although there as a tourist, with no real interest in matters of the U.N., he was overwhelmed with emotion as he looked into the eyes of boy whose situation was so dramatically different than his own, who faced suffering so distant from Roussat’s own middle-class French upbringing.

“My points of reference crumbled as people [had] lied to me, not telling me that such event could occur in life, and that all what you believed could crumble for a one second look. I think that I deeply connected with the boy on the picture and strongly, irrationally wanted to do something for him…” recounted Roussat. “I wanted to save the world for this kind of situation never to occur again.”

Roussat describes viewing the photo as the most overwhelming event of the last decade for him. It drove the fear of the child into him. He saw the subject in his dreams and thought of him often. It motivated him to work in the humanitarian field, in sectors of micro-credit and social start-ups, when possible. He reached out to us because he still feels the moment of seeing that image with such intensity and was looking for a way to address all of the emotions the photo has stirred for nearly ten years.

We cannot claim the image as one of ours. There was a photo of a young, child soldier carrying a kalashnikov taken by Roger LeMoyne, but it is not the one Roussat remembers. Still, his account confirms the importance of the work we do at Alexia.

Images stay with their viewers. They touch our souls and move our hearts. Photography drives change, one person at a time, as Roussat proves. For Roussat, he may be able to move on from this quest. He now seeks other images to fill the space the original occupied. We hope that the works we have helped support for more than 26 years can help.

Has an Alexia image affected you? Please, tell us about it. And if you know what photograph Roussat might have seen at the U.N. in 2006, let us know.

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