In this series, we ask photographers to look back over their careers and choose a picture that means the most to them.
I’d have to say the image of the dead silver-back gorilla being carried in Congo, because it got a huge reaction that I totally wasn’t expecting. It also transformed my thinking about photojournalism and the environment and that is now the space I work in most often.
The reason the image affected me so much was because it was a genuine cross-over photograph that talked about both conflict and the environment in one frame. It made me realize how connected those things are.
My focus has been on that connection ever since.
At the time of these images I was in DR Congo to photograph fighting between a special forces group of conservation rangers and FDLR, the Interhamwe Hutu fundamentalist group behind the Rwandan genocide who fled into Virunga in 1994 to escape reprisals. They have lived there ever since, exploiting the National Park and destabilizing the region.
There were also 11 different paramilitary groups, as well as a corrupt Congolese Army and a rebel Army offshoot called CNDP. The killing of these gorillas occurred in the middle of all that –as a result it was a little tense moving through the forest with all these groups in conflict.
After I shot these images, myself and Scott Johnson, the journalist from Newsweek, had to flee over the Rwandan border to escape the Congolese Army. They had heard that journalists had photographed the dead gorillas and because of their involvement with the perpetrators they wanted to keep the story from leaving Congo. When the story came out I waited three months before I could go back and then I lived with CNDP for a while as they were occupying the mountain gorilla sector. That was the only way to follow up in the story and the safety of these very rare primates.
About Brent Stirton
Brent Stirton is a South African photographer with an extensive history in the documentary world. Brent’s work has been published by: National Geographic Magazine, Human Rights Watch, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Geo, CNN and many other respected international titles.
He has been a long time photographer for WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature, shooting campaigns on sustainability and the environment. He has worked for the Ford, Clinton and Gates Foundations, the Nike Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Brent also shoots regular reports for Human Rights Watch.
Brent was elected a Young Global Leader, an affiliate program of the World Economic Forum, in 2008. He is also a Canon Ambassador, one of 12 photographers representing Canon photography. Brent has worked extensively on water issues in the majority world, photographing extensive essays on HIV/Aids issues across multiple countries in an ongoing long-term project.
Brent has received 7 awards from World Press Photo and 7 awards from The PIctures of the Year International contest. Brent has received 6 awards from the Lucie Awards including International Photographer of the Year. He has also received multiple awards from the Overseas Press Club, the Frontline Club, the Deadline Club, Days Japan, China International Photo Awards, the Lead Awards Germany, Graphis, Communication Arts, American Photography, American Photo and the American Society of Publication Designers as well as the London Association of Photographers.
Brent has received 2 awards from the United Nations for his work on the Environment and in the field of HIV AIDS. He has won the Visa d’or at the Visa Pour l’Image Festival in France for magazine photography. He also won the National Magazine Award for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo for National Geographic Magazine.
Brent guided a documentary on Virunga National Park in Conflict for National Geographic Television as well as appearing in the show. The documentary won the Emmy for Best Documentary Feature as well as a Bafta Award for his work with Human Rights Watch for most significant work in an electronic medium. In 2013 he received 3 awards from Pictures of the Year International including a first for The Environmental Vision Award.
His work has appeared in numerous print shows around the world and his images are in a number of museum collections. Brent currently spends most of his time working on long-term investigative projects for National Geographic magazine. He remains committed to issues relating to Global health, diminishing cultures, sustainability and the environment.See more of Brent Stirton’s work