These are simple objects:
clocks, keys, combs, glasses.
They are the things the victims of genocide in Bosnia
carried with them on their final journey.
We are all familiar with these mundane,
The fact that some of the victims carried
personal items such as
toothpaste and a toothbrush
is a clear sign they had no idea
what was about to happen to them.
Usually, they were told that they were going to be
exchanged for prisoners of war.
These items have been recovered
from numerous mass graves across my homeland,
and as we speak, forensics are exhuming bodies
from newly discovered mass graves,
20 years after the war.
And it is quite possibly the largest ever discovered.
During the four years of conflict
that devastated the Bosnian nation in the early '90s,
approximately 30,000 citizens, mainly civilians,
went missing, presumed killed,
and another 100,000 were killed
during combat operations.
Most of them were killed
either in the early days of the war
or towards the end of the hostilities,
when U.N. safe zones like Srebrenica
fell into the hands of the Serb army.
The international criminal tribunal
delivered a number of sentences
for crimes against humanity and genocide.
Genocide is a systematic and deliberate
destruction of a racial, political, religious
or ethnic group.
As much as genocide is about killing.
It is also about destroying their property,
their cultural heritage,
and ultimately the very notion that they ever existed.
Genocide is not only about the killing;
it is about the denied identity.
There are always traces —
no such thing as a perfect crime.
There are always remnants of the perished ones
that are more durable than their fragile bodies
and our selective and fading memory of them.
These items are recovered
from numerous mass graves,
and the main goal of this collection of the items
is a unique process
of identifying those who disappeared in the killings,
the first act of genocide on European soil
since the Holocaust.
Not a single body should remain undiscovered
these items that the victims carried with them
on their way to execution
are carefully cleaned, analyzed,
catalogued and stored.
Thousands of artifacts are
packed in white plastic bags
just like the ones you see on CSI.
These objects are used as a forensic tool
in visual identification of the victims,
but they are also used as
very valuable forensic evidence
in the ongoing war crimes trials.
Survivors are occasionally called
to try to identify these items physically,
but physical browsing is extremely difficult,
an ineffective and painful process.
Once the forensics and doctors and lawyers
are done with these objects,
they become orphans of the narrative.
Many of them get destroyed, believe it or not,
or they get simply shelved,
out of sight and out of mind.
I decided a few years ago
to photograph every single exhumed item
in order to create a visual archive
that survivors could easily browse.
As a storyteller, I like to give back to the community.
I like to move beyond raising awareness.
And in this case, someone may
recognize these items
or at least their photographs will remain
as a permanent, unbiased and accurate reminder
of what happened.
Photography is about empathy,
and the familiarity of these
items guarantee empathy.
In this case, I am merely a tool,
a forensic, if you like,
and the result is a photography that is as close
as possible of being a document.
Once all the missing persons are identified,
only decaying bodies in their graves
and these everyday items will remain.
In all their simplicity,
these items are the last testament
to the identity of the victims,
the last permanent reminder
that these people ever existed.
Thank you very much.