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'The Aftermath Project': Photographers go back after the war

The effects of war linger past the fighting, as Sara Terry found out herself when she documented a mass grave being dug up in Bosnia.

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As she lingered above workers poring through mass graves in Bosnia, photojournalist Sara Terry tried to ignore a cardinal rule of photography: Get closer.

Unwilling to disturb the dead and the people recovering their remains, she and her camera observed from a distance.

Then a Polish forensic anthropologist ordered Ms. Terry to join her in a pit full of the bodies of young Muslims killed at Srebrenica. Shedding her reluctance, Terry did as she was told, standing on a mound next to the workers, trying to avoid becoming ill. Then she turned her camera on the anthropologist as she gently cradled a teenage boy's partially preserved hand in the muck.

Captured on film, the tender gesture reveals a bond formed across an abyss of time and tragedy. "When I show this picture, people look and look away very quickly," says Terry, speaking at her home in Los Angeles. "I always tell them to look again because this is the story of what it means to be human."

Her trips to Bosnia, years after the massacres and chaos of the 1990s, inspired Terry to promote a new rule for photographers: Go back. Return to the scene of war, she urges, and tell stories like this one through images.

With the help of donors, she has created The Aftermath Project, a nonprofit group that provides grants to photographers who want to chronicle what happens after the world turns its gaze away from a conflict. How do people recover? Do they escape the past or remain trapped by it? Can generosity and hope shine through the horror?

'War is only half the story,' Terry says, repeating the project's motto. "You don't have to say more than six words to someone to say what The Aftermath Project is about. People get it."


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