Stefano De Luigi has won the World Press Photo three times in different categories (1998, 2007, 2009) and the Moving Walls of Soros Foundation in 2009. In 2010 the project T.I.A. on the African continent won the 1 st prize at Days Japan and the Getty Grant for Editorial Photography. His work has been regulary published on Stern, Geo, Le Monde Magazine, Sunday Times Magazine, Newsweek and The New Yorker.
“A long journey in a really difficult country”, this is how Sudan was described by a friend, a Cambodian missionary priest. He knew the country well, at least the part of Sudan that has now become independent after years of a war still lasting today. When I landed in Juba, South Sudan wasn’t yet technically independent as the referendum was to take place in a couple of months. I travelled various cities in November 2009: Rumbek, Ayod, Bor and the capital Juba, all eaten by dust brought by the wind.
I saved the last week of work to document life in Juba, the future capital, concentrating on the new course the country was preparing to follow. This included city life, training by UN personnel on referendum oversight and military activities ensuring the proper functioning of the voting system. In addition, I focused on the Chinese community (very active in constructing new roads and buildings) and the separate happy bubble of expat NGO community life – observed with perplexity and hunger by the South Sudanese looking at their parties full of young beautiful men and women engaged in humanitarian service.
By chance I decided to visit Juba’s garbage dump, where an Italian NGO was training personnel to deal with the greatest dump in the country. I was not prepared for the sight that awaited me after the government car stopped at the end of the street. I had to walk from there onwards, the street was immersed in a dark fog filtering the sun’s rays. There was a very strong smell of burning tires. Past the truck, I had the stomach churning sensation of experiencing an extreme feeling that is rare to be felt, where the human spectacle of life is stronger that any fiction.
A community of about one hundred young men and women walked around like shadows on this solid and liquid garbage mountain of smoke and fire, each of them lost in something. Storms of flies landed on my arms and face. I continued on in this horrible and fascinating universe, mixing with the people. They didn’t pay much attention to me because the trucks were unloading food and it must have been around lunch time. I saw a woman turn slowly towards me like a statue of salt, holding eye contact with all the dignity in the world. This is when I pressed the shutter.