Full Frame: Valley of tears


Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers:

It's the longest unresolved conflict in the history of the United Nations — the fight over the valley of Kashmir.

Kashmir is not a poor region: unlike the rest of India it has rich natural resources and most of its population lives in comparably good conditions. The surge in militancy, which started in the early-1990s, changed the fate of the valley, turning it into the so-called "Valley of tears." It became the most highly militarized zone in the world. More than 700,000 Indian soldiers and members of paramilitary forces are stationed in the region.

Back before the partition of British-India into the now-archenemies India and Pakistan, Muslim Kashmir was an independent kingdom with its own culture and language. Nowadays the region's people still feel more as Kashmiri than they do Indian: they don't want to belong to India, which is geographically, ethnologically and culturally far away from their own roots.

The Kashmir conflict has already resulted in four wars: 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, which have led to the death of more than 60,000 people, with more than 10,000 still missing. Both India and Pakistan are now in possession of atomic weapons, which makes it one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

And although there have been improvements in the bilateral relations between the states, the situation in Kashmir remains fragile and tense.

About the photographer:

Born 1984 in Germany, my first journey brought me to Central America where I got infected with the travel bug that led me to explore the world and travel abroad. After I dropped my initial plans to study social science, I worked for a year as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper before deciding to study photography.

It was pure chance that finally brought me to Kashmir. I ran out of money while traveling in India with a motorbike and I couldn’t afford to make the journey into Nepal as I had planned. So I sold my bike and with the last of my money bought a train ticket to Kashmir, where I immediately fell in love with the people, the Himalayan landscape and the amazing atmosphere in this remote part of the world.

It was the issue of the Kashmir conflict that led me to seek another approach in photography — a more subjective and emotional one, to not only show what’s actually happening on the ground but also how it feels to live in such a place at this specific time.

My work has been recognized at the International Photograph Awards, the New York Photo Festival, Photographers Giving Back Award, the Getty Images student grant and recently at the Picture of the Year International and the PDN 30’s.