Just a week after the war ended in April, 2003, Dutch photojournalist Geert van Kesteren travelled to Baghdad. Assigned by UNICEF, Newsweek and Stern, he would report from Iraq for almost seven months, working as an embedded journalist for seven weeks, a position about which he initially had had strong doubts. But there was no choice. Having visited Iraq and the Arab world extensively in the years before, he had his own contacts and insights into this complex society that was once again being shaken by violence. Van Kesteren experienced the absurdity of the war and the underlying clash of cultures, and converted this into images and text. This resulted in an impressive book, bearing witness of what went wrong in Iraq during the American occupation.
“Why Mister, Why?” Iraqis cried out these words in outrage at the acts of US troops, which they could not understand. American soldiers in turn used them as a taunt to ridicule the despair of the people they captured. Van Kesteren saw it written as such on the door of a toilet at an American base. Why Mister, Why? illustrates the widening gap between the Iraqis and their occupiers. They are the question of those who did not know what to expect, and those who saw the Americans as their liberators who would bring democracy. “There were countless people in Iraq who told me the same thing: ‘If this is democracy, then they can keep it’”, Van Kesteren writes in his introduction to the book.
Focusing on the fundamental misunderstanding that is the result of disinterest in other cultural models, the tragic clash between East and West, modern Western society and the Islamic world so manifest in the Iraq war is quite comparable to the tensions lived inside many Western countries. The outcry “Why Mister, Why?” therefore has a scope far beyond the war in Iraq.
Why Mister, Why? is a presentation of the groundbreaking document on the aftermath of the Iraq war by Dutch photojournalist Geert van Kesteren. Van Kesteren was awarded the third prize in Spot News stories at World Press Photo 2005 for this series. The book, published by Artimo Publishers, Amsterdam received a number of prizes, among which the prestigious book prize at PhotoEspaña 2008.
Featuring more than 250 images, Why Mister, Why? is a compelling account from Van Kesteren. For the most part of 2003 and into 2004, van Kesteren made these images in a struggling Iraq, intertwining them with his personal experience of the situation in diary-like notes. In that way, this body of work resonates with an honesty found only when the narrator and photographer of a story are one and the same. In a clear photojournalistic way, van Kesteren outlines why it will take a long time before the Iraqi people can enjoy the semblance of peace. Accompanying the images is an introduction by Newsweek senior editor Michael Hirsh, with whom Van Kesteren shared several tense moments in Iraq.
Selection '150 Greatest Photobooks of All Time', Source Photographic Review (2016)
Winner 'Best non Spanish photobook of the year', Photo España (2008)