By Michael Czobit
Richard Fitoussi is getting ready to return to war.
Last fall, Fitoussi, 31, came home to Canada following a stint as an embedded journalist among Canadian peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Later this year, he plans on visiting the war-torn countries of Sudan and Iraq.
Today, though, he’s in Thailand, photographing the aftermath of the tsunami disaster. Fitoussi, an independent photojournalist, will be making the trip to add to his portfolio of photographs, which should push him ahead of the competition in the eyes of publishers. “The editors are going to say, ‘This guy is doing it,'” he says. “It” is war photojournalism.
Through his photographs, Fitoussi tells the stories of those who are suffering in war-torn regions with hopes of raising awareness about that suffering in the West. But Fitoussi doesn’t just snap a picture and hope things will get better. He extends his actions and expands upon his endeavours from his home base in Toronto.
One of these endeavours was born following a trip to Cambodia in 2000, the year that marked the 25th anniversary of that country’s genocide. The visit showed him that time had not healed old wounds. “There are 10 million land mines and 13 million people. Do the math,” he says. This equation inspired Fitoussi to create the Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Fund to support the removal of landmines worldwide.
Since starting the fund in 2001, Fitoussi has raised almost $200,000. “I said I’d try (the relief fund) for five years. It’s really growing after four years,” he says.
* * *
After a photo shoot in Toronto last fall, Fitoussi leaves with his $11,000 Canon Mark II digital camera draped around his neck. If the camera doesn’t give it away, Fitoussi’s clothing forwards the impression that he’s a photojournalist right out of a war zone. The clothes suit him well and it makes sense: Photojournalists from the Vietnam War inspired Fitoussi to start taking pictures.
Fitoussi mentions Robert Capa, Steve McCurry and James Nachtwey the way a film fan mentions De Niro, Pacino and Brando. Despite being trained in commercial photography (Fitoussi graduated from Image Arts in 1998), he says commercial work isn’t for him.
“With images, it’s the power of persuasion,” says Fitoussi. “I’d rather manipulate someone into thinking about a better world. Show them a photograph to remind them how lucky they are rather than tell a 13-year old girl she’s too fat.”
In 2000, Fitoussi visited Bali, Indonesia to shoot a photo-documentary on surfers. But, shortly after his arrival, an encounter with a local street gang changed the course of his journey.
The gang of drug dealers and teen prostitutes offered Fitoussi dope, but he turned down their offer and made his own: “I told them, ‘I want to tell your story. Let me in, let me come in and live with you.'” Twenty-eight days later, Fitoussi emerged from living amongst the gang members with a new perspective and understanding. “They’re really caring for each other as a group,” Fitoussi says, likening the drug dealers and prostitutes to a family.
“If someone was sick, the money would be shared accordingly to help that person.”
* * *
This spring, Fitoussi is planning to show his work to Reuters and National Geographic Magazine. He says he would like to work as a war photo-journalist, but only for a couple of years.
“If I survive that, then I want to be a photo editor or maybe a professor at Ryerson,” says Fitoussi. “When I’m done this, I’ll have something to teach.”