Dir.: Harold Monfils | Doc | with Jason P Howe | New Zealand/Malaysia/ Netherlands/Canada | 87 min.
Harold Monfils’ unflinching portrait of war photographer Jason P Howe is hampered by the near total lack of information about his subject, and the ambiguity surrounding war photography as a profession.
We first meet Howe in Columbia in 2001 where he has a baptism of fire narrowly escaping a bus explosion while covering the conflict between FARC guerrillas and the paramilitary forces. His photos of the dead and dying were his first ‘coup’. Soon afterwards, he fell in love with the guerrilla fighter Marilyn, who turned out to be a paid assassin. Having scruples about continuing the relationship, Howe left. When he returned six month later, Marilyn had been killed for being an informer by the FARC – Howe somehow underplaying the fact that she had asked him earlier to return to help her.
Fellow photographers Hector Emmanuel and Roger Arnold make an astute observation: “Jason was high on romance, sex and adventures.” The two left, leaving Howe behind. In Baghdad we next meet Howe pondering the question of “how many different ways can you photograph the hole Saddam Hussein was hiding in”.
The 2006 war in Lebanon saw Howe getting angry with the growing number of new age photographers who where, in his opinion “rude and aggressive, producing war porn”. After that, he disappeared into Thailand for years living on sex, drugs and alcohol. The reason he returned to his job in 2011 was due to his brother serving in the British Army in Helmond Province, Afghanistan. During his stay, Howe photographed a soldier losing his legs after a land mine exploded. Howe later shot more photos of the soldier’s rehabilitation in hospital. His efforts were not welcomed by the MOD who tried to suppress the publication of the photo series by the Telegraph “because the MOD does not like to circulate photos about the reality of war, because nobody will want to sign up any more”. The MOD lost the battle, but got its revenge soon later when Howe was refused permission to go back to Afghanistan. Since 2014, Howe has lived in Andalusia with his dogs, trying to get over his PTDS – but still ready to go again “because I like to shake people out of their little bubble”.
The real Jason Howe remains an enigma backstory wise: we only find out he has a brother and was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, which made him “not afraid of death”. But he comes over as a detached individual, walking around on battlegrounds smiling to himself after the conflict has died down. Renowned Vietnam War photographer Tim Page believes “that Howe found wars exciting”. Howe somehow sees emotions as expendable, admitting to “dealing with emotions again, after I had used alcohol, drugs and sex as crutches, facing my demons”. If there is one flaw in Monfils’ documentary it is his failure to probe the psyche of this very disturbed man. AS
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