DPP Home Profiles I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

You have to get in close to see the truth. Colin Finlay has made a career of bringing that truth to the eyes of the world—stories that aren't always pretty, but need to be told

Kigali, Rwanda, September 1994

Shortly after the 100-day massacre, Finlay confronted and recorded the magnitude of the tragedy. He was one of a handful of photographers granted access to Rwanda's genocidal epicenter, Nyarubuye. It was in a red brick church where he photographed the remains of up to 10,000 people who had been killed—hacked, clubbed, butchered and decapitated.

Recalls Finlay, “Decomposing bodies, some with flesh, some without, lay everywhere in positions of tortured agony. Bleached bones, empty eye sockets, crushed skulls and dismembered limbs littered the apocalyptic landscape. I didn't know how to even begin to make pictures.”

If he didn't have the negatives, Finlay would have sworn that he had never entered that building: “This can't have happened, I told myself. Human beings can't be capable of such savagery.”

Romania, 1995

In spite of becoming a seasoned documentary photographer, Finlay was hesitant to explore a place the Romanians called “the end of the road,” where the country's children go to die. Says Finlay, “They had been given AIDS-tainted blood by their government and now they were being abandoned by that very same system.”

He witnessed one child lapsing in and out of consciousness while being fed liquid with an eyedropper. Another child had his head covered with lesions and his eyes, nose and mouth covered with blisters.

“There was no medicine, no vitamins or AZT to treat the children,” Finlay adds. “They would simply exist, untreated and in pain, until the AIDS virus consumed their fragile bodies.”

Over the course of subsequent visits, Finlay explored as much of Bucharest as he could. He explored the city's train stations, clinics and hospitals. He forced his interpreter to stay with him as he spent several days and nights photographing the street children who lived in the city's underground sewers. The kids were high on glue without a care for the world. They were orphaned by their parents and abandoned by their government.

“I understood why they sniffed glue, huddled for warmth at night, sleeping on the city's hot water pipes,” says Finlay. “I never asked what they dreamed. I never asked what they hoped their future might bring. I felt guilty for actually having one.”

Finlay was able to publish some of the images when he returned home: “Through the sharing of their lives, the children had given me my dream. What had I ever done for them? Would a handful of my published images make a difference in their lives? Of course not. But that's why I got into this profession in the first place. I believed that I could make a difference somehow.”


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