Jerome Delay: Photographing Mali’s Invisible War

Mali Fighting
Jerome Delay—AP
Mali army cadets secure a perimeter on the military side of Bamako's airport, Jan. 16, 2013, during a joint visit to French and Malian troops by Mali's President Dioncounda Traore and French Ambassador to Mali Christian Rouyer.

French photographer Jerome Delay has spent the past month photographing the unfolding conflict in Mali for the Associated Press. Here, LightBox presents a selection of his recent work along with his reflections on his time in-country:

When I took the Mali assignment a month ago, I knew it would be challenging. I wondered how, in an asymmetrical war (as the French brass likes to call it), I would photograph a pick-up full of Jihadists being taken out by a smart bomb dropped from a Mirage fighter jet in the middle of the desert. Remember rule number one in photography: be there!

Yet the speed of the ground deployment and its increasing intensity was a testimony to the fact that the Jihadists were not going to be flushed only from the sky — and this is where the frustration started. Despite countless requests from all news organizations to have access to the conflict, French forces (read: Paris politicians at the Ministry of Defense) had a media plan: they want to control everything. During an organized visit to Konna a week after it was “liberated,” I felt I was being shown around by Libya’s former ministry of information handlers. “Shoot this, not that!”

Furthermore, everything was designed from the start to make access virtually impossible. To get to Sevare, I had to bypass five Malian checkpoints, whose instructions were to turn back any and every journalist on the road. Thanks to Land Cruisers and GPS, we managed bypass them each time.

Though I was not going to the front, I still felt I had to tell the story somehow — the why’s and the who’s of the conflict, if not the how’s. And like most modern-day conflicts (even those dating back 600 years), death and destruction seems to breed freely in the most spectacular scenery. Mali is a country of such beauty and warmth that every instant is a meaningful image and powerful story.

I am still waiting to go to the front. It is more than 200 miles from where I am, in Gao … or is it? Last Sunday, Jihadists engaged African and French forces in a fierce gun battle less than a mile from here. I guess as we are entering stage two of this conflict, I might not have to go to the front after all. It might just come to me….


Jerome Delay is the Africa Chief Photographer of the Associated Press.


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