"Sometimes I feel like I’m stretched far too thin" says conflict photographer

Tanks rolling as motorbikes pass, from the Sony World Photography Awards 2023
(Image credit: © Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, United Kingdom, Winner, Professional competition, Documentary Projects, Sony World Photography Awards 2023)

Photojournalist Hugh Kinsella Cunningham took home the top prize in the documentary category at this year's Sony World Photo Awards 2023 for his series War and Peace in Congo. Commissioned by National Geographic, and with a grant from the Pulitzer Prize, Hugh tells the stories of women standing up against rebels and chaos caused by jihadist groups and Congolese armies through incredibly powerful photos. 

Speaking to Hugh at the opening of the SWPA Exhibition at Somerset House in London, he talks to me about his emotional involvement with the crisis and the people he photographs. "With that conflict, it's mostly just complete because that was taken meters away from a UN detachment. It feels like there are lots of international communities that are completely forgotten about which is incredibly frustrating"

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One of the pieces Hugh included in his submission for the SWPA was taken inside the Kilo-Mission church in the Ituri Province Congo on November 6, 2021. It captures a woman called Marie who had been displaced by the Ituri conflict cleaning the altar but she is just one among dozens of families who have taken shelter in the church as CODECO militants occupied their villages. In February 2022, just months after this photo was taken, 18 civilians were murdered in the church following a CODECO raid. 

Untitled, by Hugh Kinsella Cunningham (Image credit: © Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, United Kingdom, Winner, Professional competition, Documentary Projects, Sony World Photography Awards 2023)

Hugh tells me, "The picture of the tank charging off to fight rebels was taken in a different province but I flew back from there in the morning to go and see this, but sometimes I feel like I'm stretched far too thin. Straight after that photo, there was another massacre so it's a logistical nightmare dealing with small planes."

Documenting the consequences of conflict, and the innocent people who are affected by it, takes courage and determination, not to mention a strong mind. I asked Hugh how he deals with the emotional side of things and whether he struggles to detach from his work. 

"At the end of the day I chose to put myself in that situation, and I can remove myself from that situation. I think it's mostly for me. I don't want to put other people at risk doing my work."

There is an SWPA photo book available to buy directly from the World Photography Organization website

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.