Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: The Photographer

The Photographer is a graphic novel that chronicles Didier Lefevre's first major assignment as a photojournalist.  His task is to document a Doctors Without Borders mission into Cold War era war-torn Afghanistan. 

This oversized graphic novel is told in three distinct sections.  The first part tells of the preparation for the journey, and the trek to northern Afghanistan where the doctors would set up their temporary hospital.  The second section is all about the patients and the treatments they require.  The third and final section chronicles Didier's journey back to civilization. 

The Photograhper is a unique form of graphic storytelling because it uses both Didier's photographs from the journey and graphic illustration to fill in the gaps so that the story is coherent and not just a coffee table photo book.

Of the three distinct sections in The Photographer, my personal favorite was the third section that chronicled Didier's journey back home.  On the way to the village where the doctors set up their field hospital, Didier and the doctors had traveled together, relying heavily on Juliette, one of the doctors, and de facto leader of the group.  Juliette had strong connections with local leaders which helped the group achieve smooth passage.

The same would have held true for the journey back, but Didier wasn't a fan of the itinerary which took a two week detour to supply another doctor outpost.  Deciding that he was ready to get back to civilization, Didier chose to make a solo journey back and save himself the two weeks.  His account of his journey back is harrowing, intense and full of twists of fate.  If not for his pictures, many of the events would seem like the work of nightmares rather than a real life account of true events.

For me, the greatest aspect of The Photographer is how the photos allow the reader to become fully immersed in the events that take place.  They say pictures say a thousand words, and that idiom has never been more true than in The Photographer.  Without a doubt the photographs make this graphic novel what it is.  Which is a good thing because the artwork isn't that special.

Its possible that the art would seem underwhelming due to the fact that it is juxtaposed with some great photography, but I don't think that's the case, and more often than not, it left me wanting more.  The people were drawn with thick lines that got the job done, but didn't stand out as something compelling.  The panels themselves were often devoid of  environmental detail and often simply depicted static talking figures.  While this worked form a story standpoint, serving the need to fill in gaps left by photos in order to properly tell the story, it didn't do much from an aesthetic standpoint, and only detracts from what is usually a very dynamic part of the comics medium.

All told, The Photographer is a provocative story and though it covers a Doctors Without Borders mission that went down in the 80's, many of the issues the story discusses are still pertinent in present times.  In many ways this felt like a Joe Sacco graphic novel in the sense that Lefevre told his story with brutal, straight forward honesty.  The art was nothing special though and took away from the overall quality of  the graphic novel.   If you are in the mood for some engaging non-fiction graphic novel reading, or are a fan of history, this one is worth a look.

Grade: B-

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