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Pakistan without clichés, by Massimo Berruti

Text by Sarah LEDUC , , reporting from Perpignan

Latest update : 2009-09-08

At just 30, Massimo Berruti has won the Ville de Perpignan Young Reporter Award for his work on Pakistan. The abundance of clichés about the country inspired him to try to look at it differently.

Massimo Berruti doesn't feel comfortable in the limelight. Almost 3,000 pairs of eyes are looking at him but he doesn't

return their gaze. Instead, he tugs nervously at the sleeves of the jacket he picked for the occasion. Nevertheless Berruti can't hide his joy at winning the Ville de Perpignan Young Reporter Award 2009.


It is Berruti’s first visit to the Perpignan International Festival of Photojournalism. Winning the prize was an “internal explosion, a recognition of [his] work,” Berruti tells FRANCE 24.


His debut exhibition “Pakistan: Fact or Fiction?” is an attempt to capture the failure of military forces as they strive to crack down on terrorism and the Taliban.


But Berruti is not a newcomer to photojournalism. As a member of the VU photo agency, Berruti worked in Afghanistan as part of the World Press Photo-sponsored Joop Swart Masterclass. In 2006, he contributed to the collective photo book, "Made in Italy".


"Dazzling reporting" is the term the festival’s director, Jean-François Leroy, uses to describe “Pakistan: Fact or Fiction?”. Because of the difficult economic context, Berruti was forced to go to Pakistan at his own expense, Leroy adds.


Looking at a changing society


Berruti pointed his lens at the democratic transition in Pakistan, using the protests prompted by judicial reforms as an angle.

“I wanted to show the people who were involved in the democratic process,” Berruti explains. “Pakistanis do not have many rights and they know they have to fight to keep the ones they have. Together, they battled to have Chaudhry reinstated in 2008. It is a lesson in democracy, for the entire world.”  


Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf suspended judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry on March 9, 2007 for “misconduct and abuse of authority”. His suspension provoked the “Lawyer’s Movement” and mass protests in favour of democracy and against the military regime as a spirit in defence of human rights and liberty took hold of the Pakistani people. This led to the election of current President Asif Ali Zardari and Chaudhry’s reinstatement.


Berruti, the young photographer, caught the movement firsthand in February 2008. He wormed his way around the premises of the country's bar association, participated in political meetings, and was able to draw a portrait of the Pakistan Muslim League, which opposed the suspension.  


Beyond clichés



Berruti attempts to photograph a changing society. He shows chaos on the streets and a population refusing to give in to fear, but without managing to rid itself of the Taliban’s influence.


But Berruti doesn't demonise the Taliban. He admits that the terrorist threat is real – but also believes that Pakistani and international military operations against the Taliban since 2004 have only stoked the flames of conflict. 


“It is difficult to understand what underlies the terrorist threat,” Berruti says. “It exists. But the way it is being fought against only makes things worse. Pashtuns [ethnic Afghans who live in the conflict zone] cannot believe that they are being killed without reason. There are all kinds of technology used to fight the Taliban, but ultimately, drones are killing people at random.”


Berruti rejects the clichés and shortcuts that he says he reads in the press and claims to apply to himself the same rigorous standards that he expects from the media. He works in black and white because he does not want to be “distracted” by colour. “In black and white,” he says, “I get to the essence of things.” It is an invitation to look at Pakistan in shades of grey.

Date created : 2009-09-07