“I used to love looking at old family pictures trying to imagine all the stories behind them,” says Paris-born photographer Margaux Senlis. “Then, I got my first camera at ten years old and haven’t stopped making images since.”
Following these early years of inspiration, Margaux made photography her full-time pursuit, completing a BA at Gobelins, a school of arts and visual communication in Paris, and then moving to the The National School of Photography (ENSP) in Arles, where she is currently studying a master’s degree.
This commitment to her practice proved worthwhile, as Margaux’s skill in the medium grew, becoming evident in her recent series, UXO (unexploded ordnance). After a trip to Cambodia in 2015 where she visited many minefields, she began researching the presence of this wartime phenomena. Realising that these deadly weapons were still injuring and killing locals today – 40 years after the Vietnam War –Margaux began planning a project to document and expose this issue.
Between September and November 2018, the photographer returned to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to bear witness to the dangers that persist with UXO. Guided by the host of the house where she was staying in Phonsavan, Laos, Margaux began making contact with various NGOs, land mine museums and mine removing organisations, who advised on the best areas to shoot the project.
These locations also included the rooftop of her host’s house, where she shot old munitions with a white sheet he had provided. “We created a photo studio on his rooftop in Phonsavan, which is in the Xieng Khouang province, and was the most heavily bombed area in Laos during the second Indochina war,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Once in the forests, however, Margaux encountered problems with transport and the weather: “I decided to travel during the rainy season, in order to capture the vivid green nature; but to get off the tourist trail and get to different villages I would have to ride scooters/motorbikes on small muddy roads, making it quite difficult with my equipment,” she says. “The water also rises in this area during the rainy season, causing a lot of land mines and bombs to be unearthed and displaced. This is why I have often photographed water, like a conductive thread in my project.”
Other photos in the series display prosthetic limbs and munition juxtaposed with plants and fruit, which Margaux says is typical of her compositional style: “I didn’t want to photograph the victims of UXOs, so I instead used still life to represent farmers, workers and children, who are the most common victims of mines,” she explains. “By photographing prosthetic limbs, I could represent amputees without showing their faces or scars and explore the issue as a commonplace truth, and not something that just affects some individuals.”
Speaking on the experience and her interactions with the locals, Margaux says “what struck me the most with the people I met was their kindness and tenderness.” These reactions inspired her to think about humanity’s ability to adapt and encouraged an evocative portrayal of the people she encountered, away from the shock-factor images that may have been a more obvious choice. “I didn’t want to explicitly show the dangers that are hidden beneath the ground, but rather hint at them through symbols and atmosphere.”
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