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 © Luko G-R (
20 photo(s)
and 0 draft(s),
created on 20-05-2010
4 project comment(s)
69 photos comment(s)

The heart of darkness. Now that I chose my title, I am trying not to get scared by it, eventually pull some substance out of it without being doomed by the ghost of a french writing Pole.


I don’t recall being frugal on describing the landmarks of my childhood. I’m a south pacific islander in my heart, in my mind, in my home (whoever visited me may knock the nail on the fact my living room looks more like a curios shop...).

It has been two years on that I am revisiting the locations of my childhood : Fiji in 2008 and, last year that was Vanuatu, where I grew up in my teenage for 8 years. I claim if it hadn’t been raining the evening the flight landed on Bauerfield airport, Port Vila, I would have kissed the ground like a polish pope.


The place I left long ago used to bathe in sunny casualness, accustomed that one of the two ruling powers of the only condominium government in the world (Brits and French) would swiftly address any issue. We would drive japanese motorcycles with no licenses, play football until late night hours, go to the cinema without paying tickets, load a rifle on the shoulder go hunting wild pigeons in the jungle backyard, take a dip in the lagoon after school instead of doing homeworks. No TV, no taxes, no world outside, eternal freedom were the keywords of my childhood insouciance.


Thirty years later, I discovered a place soaked with darkness and wrecked by cupid foreign entrepreneurs trying to rule a place where the idea of “colony” once couldn’t have been further away. Imagine in the 21st century a country whose major city doesn’t have any cinema running on a Saturday evening and where public lights are limited to one street downtown… no, you lost buddy, the correct reply is not "Afghanistan"... I’m sure they have at least a cinema at the US Army base.


The places I remember were still there, though more the like parts of a ghost town. I noticed all-you-can-eat-buffet sized pot holes on the main-street, even the 4WD rentals did not insure your car if you dared take the road circling the island, one of the buildings of my school was crumbling down while the more modern ones were for the best more dilapidated than the casino uphill Kep in Cambodia, my home street which was once bordered with bougainvillea and grapefruit trees looked like a dusty part of Soweto on which remained heavily guarded bunkers like the embassy of China, the only part of town that was prospering was the once anecdotal shantytown which had become the size of a carioca favela.


And yet, every night the economic rulers are loudly partying on Foster’s and FourX pints, failing to dismiss their calamitous behaviour originated from the penal colonies. Feasting over the profits coming either from the beaches they have privatized against a few mechanic jewelry or from plain speculation over real estate. It is a fact that Vila, Vanuatu’s main city, is dotted with more real estate agencies than bookshops (Actually there are NO bookshops downtown : it is another fact matching with the level of culture already described above) or say decently priced restaurants (which excludes beer gardens and stupidly priced restaurants).

When hearing some of the white guys, downtown was getting to the point of Papua New Guinea, which is halfway between Jamaica and South Africa : house guards had become a serious need and the usual watch out for your white face downtown... Ha : that's what we'll see!


“Well, who the hell would spend an hour in your country and why : Send us a dream from Paris and shut up!” That’s what you be allowed to ask at this stage

The people and the magic, folks! Forget the roads and the concrete, forget the architecture and the city lights. Yourself who of course read LF.Celine’s Journey remember that scene, where while he settles deep into the african jungle, Bardamu cannot sleep at night because life is pounding in the darkness... the heart of darkness… behind the back of the deviant rulers… See that’s where we’re getting at it...


Once you go past that apparent darkness veiling the genuine life in the island – I have always associated the smell of burnt wood and smoke with Vanuatu, nothing like solar Fijis for instance- then real people come alive, the ones the rulers certainly wouldn’t like to hobnob with, so far way from their concerns..

And beyond the darkness there is a deeper experience like the kava bars serving the organic and psychotrope mashed root drink, the somber side of the island black magic, the color of the traditional black fern carvings, the smoke of volcano fumes, the dim lights peerings through the entrance of the palm tree huts, the fireplace exhaling the wood smoke and dark skinned boys and girls singing “string band” tunes all night long. That’s the country I like.


Against all the advices I maliciously asked from either newbie expats or dilapidated barflies, I decided that alike a genuine old time resident, I could walk my way anytime into MY city, especially at night. From one encounter to another, made easier with the help of the local language I could slowly remember first then speak more or less fluently in the last days, I could gather the story of the long 30 years I had missed. As mouths opened up, and words were coming out, I haven’t met anyone who ten minutes after didn't call me like “Welcome back, brother”. 


Wait a minute... I am going to call this project “Oh, brother”



Pour moi il s'agit d'un grand retour, sur plusieurs niveaux - il y a bien entendu la question de ton retour a Vanatu, a ces Tristes Tropiques dilapides et exploites comme jamais - mais il y a aussi pour moi personellement le retour de Luko a plein gres dans cette communaute.

Comme toujours chez toi on a droit a un "double scoop", c'est a dire a des textes tres riches qui tiennent debout tous seuls d'ailleurs mais qui, allies a ces images percutantes, resonnent encore plus fort.

Il y a parmi ces images uniformement bonnes quelques veritables perles, je cite "Yasur" (TERRIBLE!), "Reggae Nighthawks" (digne de Hooper) et "Ghost Dancer" (fou ce que tu as pu faire avec un peu de "flare").

Bien sur c'est l'ensemble qui compte dans un projet et ici, on ressent a travers ces images une profonde tristesse, un monde jadis si innocent et decent, maintenant en friche, viole, abandonne, comme ce qui reste de ton ancienne ecole. On ressent aussi toute la rage que ces scenes fonr naitre en toi. Et comme on ne peut jamais plus retourner a Hoi An, je crains qu'on ne puisse revenir a Vanatu non plus.

Je m'imaginais ton enfance la-bas assez diferemment - je te voyais en Nouvelle Caledonie, a Tahiti meme, allant au cinema sous les tropiques avec tes copains. Et puis apres cette escale recente a Lutece, quand j'ai vu de mes propres yeux ces objets chez toi, j'ai compris un peu plus a quel point tout cela fait partie de toi, pas comme des curiosites, des antiquites, mais comme des totems de touts le jours, enfin des symbole de ta propre culture a toi, oui. Ca, ce fut une revelation pour moi, que ce tres beau projet ne fait qu'amplifier...

"L'humanité s'installe dans la mono-culture; elle s'apprête à produire la civilisation en masse, comme la betterave.."
(CLaude Levy-Strauss)
 Je n'ai pas encore eu le temps de commenter toutes les photos. Un message rapide sur ce projet.
Un projet qui respire le voyage avec des photos qui sont plus dans un esprit narratif et illustratif dont on tire son essence esthétique. Un projet qui met en avant paradoxalement une beauté intrinsèque à travers des émotions, des perceptions véhiculées grâces à ces photos que par leurs côtés esthétiques et techniques.... Il y a du Max Pam.
Oh, brother, where art thou?  Have you seen "L'Intrus" by Claire Denis?


Just read about the quake there.  Must have been the force of your photo essay disturbing the tectonic plates.

7.2 quake hits South Pacific nation of Vanuatu

I see that I have arrived here rather late, so I will not make comments on individual photos.  But I find the prose accompanying the project make it perhaps more coherent than the photos alone. Several of the photos are striking in color and composition, one with a nod to Webb, others somehow remind me of another personality in PH, but each is compelling.  Forgive me for saying so, but the intensity of introspection in the prose does not appear to be matched by that expressed in the early photos, until I began to see those with flares--then I begin to see the synergy.  The mysterious light begins to reveal the anguish in the dark recesses, with shapes of the cap reminiscent of Pinoccio's nose, with errie figures stepping out of circles of light, distinctly recognizable as islanders, begin to make sense.  The diptych is surprising and solid, and helps set the stage.  Look forward to the rest of it.