Stanley Greene was a battle-tested conflict photographer when he arrived to cover the first Chechen war in 1993. He had recently covered the violence in nearby Georgia and had almost lost his life amid the shelling of Russia’s Parliament during an attempted coup. But nothing he had seen prepared him for the brute force unleashed by the Russian government in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and the catastrophic loss of life he witnessed.
Mr. Greene had the proper equipment, but he was not ready for how the war would change him. It gave him a better understanding of being a photographer — teaching him to “visually portray evil without beating the viewer over the head with it.” But it also took some of his naïveté.
“I became more cynical,” he said. “Once you’ve watched people following ants to see where food is in Chechnya, you become a really depressing dinner guest in Paris when somebody complains that the chicken is not very good.”
He spent much of his time over eight years in Chechnya, and his photographs were gathered into a book, “Open Wound: Chechnya 1994-2003,” published by Trolley. Last year, Mr. Greene, a member of the Noor collective, felt a strong need to return to Chechnya and find out what happened to the people whose lives had affected him so deeply.
“A lot of time we drop in and drop out and I think it’s really important to go back and try to find the people you photograph and see if they’re O.K., if they’re alive,” he said. “And tell them that their pictures are being seen and they are not being forgotten.”
To fund this project, Mr. Greene, 65, applied for the Aftermath Project grant, which helps photographers tell post conflict stories of recovery and rebuilding. Founded by Sara Terry, a photographer and filmmaker, the nonprofit organization publishes a book of works by its grant winner and the finalists every year. Ms. Terry is currently crowdfunding the publication of the seventh Aftermath volume.
“War is only half the story,” she said. “I think war defines our inhumanity. Aftermath is where I believe we begin to rediscover our humanity, because if you’re going to survive and rebuild you have to be making choices about being human. If not, you’re making choices that lead to the next conflict.”
The grant finalists in the newest book include Isabel Kiesewetter, on former military bases in East and West Germany; Martino Lombezzi, on the border between Israel and Lebanon; Boryana Katsarova, on postwar Kosovo; and Gwenn Dubourthoumieu, on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr. Greene’s application presented a challenge, because he was not welcome in certain pro-Russian circles in Chechnya, and signaling his arrival risked enraging the authorities and endangering him. So the announcement last December said only that he was selected for a project on “the rise of Islam in the Caucasus.”
He discovered that much had changed since his earlier book, “Open Wound” — so much so that after spending a couple of months in Chechnya last year he titled his new project “Hidden Scars.”
“When I did the earlier book the wounds were open and you could look inside and see the evil,” he said. “Now the evil is hidden. What Kadyrov and Putin have done to this country is horrendous.”
On this visit to Chechnya, Mr. Greene found Russian flags, and statues and posters of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, everywhere. But underneath that facade he found “disillusionment and a people that were fearful and lost.”
Credit Stanley Greene/Noor
Another reason he chose “Hidden Scars,” Mr. Greene said, was that his journey reopened his own wounds from the earlier war. He lost friends and colleagues in Chechnya, and his personal life, finances and health suffered. But he also made photographs that stand as a testament to the difficult events he witnessed.
“I wasn’t just photographing horror for horror’s sake,” he said. “I was trying to show the situation people were dealing with day to day.”