Mining Fear in Idyllic Landscapes

Seventeen years after the Yugoslav wars, large swaths of land in Bosnia are still riddled with active land mines.

In Believing is Seeing, filmmaker and critic Errol Morris asks, “Isn’t there always a possible elephant lurking just at the edge of the frame?” Literally speaking, these elephants are everything we can’t see beyond the image’s edges. Metaphorically, they are all that a photographer chooses to exclude. Photographer Brett Van Ort’s work dissolves these edges. In his MINESCAPE series, Van Ort presents meticulously composed Bosnian landscapes that are both timeless and infinite and riddled with land mines left over from the Balkan wars. The elephant isn’t outside the frame-he’s perhaps in the middle of the living room. The uncertainty over whether these landscapes contain mines makes these luscious, painterly landscapes deeply unsettling and disturbing.

Seventeen years after the war, most of Bosnia has been de-mined, but somewhere between 3.5 and 10 percent of the land has not been cleared. Fear has kept Bosnians away and has had the unintended consequence of environmental revival in these border areas–rare birds are returning and nature is thriving, undisturbed by development. The landmines have served to protect the landscape.

MINESCAPE also includes photos of the actual mines. In the parking lot of a Bosnian NGO, Van Ort worked with his translator and a roll of butcher paper to create images that take their cues from commercial product shots rather than photojournalistic reportage. These “advertisements” come complete with price tags: £3.50 for a plastic anti-personnel mine, £8 for a plastic pressure actuated anti-tank mine. Additional images of prosthetic arms, fingers, and metal joints ensure that we won’t forget the human costs of these mines.

Brett Van Ort was born in Washington D.C. and raised and schooled in Texas. He moved to Los Angeles, California after obtaining an undergraduate degree in film. He worked as a camera assistant and camera operator for several years on various films, documentaries, commercials and television shows. Brett soon found still photography as a more personal, creative outlet that allowed him to pursue and tell stories that he felt passionate about. Spending his summers on the farm where his mother grew up instilled a great respect for nature in him from a young age. He has always been interested in land, the outdoors and how we as humans use the environment to both our benefit and detriment. Many of his personal projects focus on the landscape, and our interaction with our environment.Brett splits his time between Los Angeles and London but finds himself in various locations around the world pursuing stories and photographs he feels are important.

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