First published on 26 Sep 2008. Updated on 21 Mar 2012.
You started off in music and fashion photography. Did the egos or the boredom drive you to the field of war? I started out assisting commercial photographers but I was inspired by those who had covered the Vietnam War: Larry Towell, Don McCullin, Tim Page - people who were doing really contemporary and incredibly moving pictures. I wanted to throw myself at the world and see what was going on. War brings out some of our greatest historical moments if you're willing to capture them. I wasn't driven; I was inspired.
What was your first experience of a war zone? Nearly getting myself killed in Sri Lanka. It was '89 or '90 and I went to cover the Tamil Tigers in the north and the civil war taking place. I was on a bright pink motorbike crossing from the government land to the Tigers' side when the Tigers opened up with automatic gunfire, strafing my path with bullets. I still can't believe I made it through at all: I felt the wind and heard the crack of bullets whiz past. At the checkpoint I had to talk my way [past] kids with loaded weapons pointed at my head. I hardly got any good pictures out of it - I was young and naive and could only think about getting to another war and coming out with better pictures.
Why risk life and limb, though? I go to wild countries like Afghanistan because I find them incredibly fascinating and I think it's important that these [places] are covered. When I started photographing Afghanistan no one was interested. I was going there and risking my life to take these photos and open these windows that I felt were important to the people; I gave Afghans a voice. Nowadays it's a well-covered conflict but when I began in '93 it certainly wasn't that way.
If you had to name one photo or series that really made you proud of your impact as a photojournalist, what would it be? The 'Taliban Burning' incident. I'd been embedded with US Forces in southern Afghanistan in October of 2005 and while on an operation in Kandahar the US soldiers burned the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters, using the incident for psychological warfare. While the bodies burnt, inflammatory and anti-Islamic public broadcasts were made from a Humvee with loudspeakers. My video footage and photos sparked international outrage, a criminal investigation, and changes to US military policy.
How did the Reportage festival start? We founded the festival in 1999. It was around the time that Australian troops had landed in East Timor and we were coming home after covering the madness and showing people our work in our backyards and loungerooms. Reportage started out small and guerrilla, very rough and ready, and it's become a slick and amazing forum for photography.
Are you more at home in the fields of Afghanistan or on the sands of Bondi Beach? Sydney will always be my home. I have a daughter now, and that changes things a lot and grounds me here more than ever. I see the world very differently and thank God for it.
Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give it away? When I narrowly escaped a suicide bombing in Afghanistan earlier this year I asked myself lots of questions. Having my daughter Ava makes a massive difference and I'm much more driven toward staying alive than I ever was before. No picture is worth your life.
Is Stephen Dupont headed for baby photography, then? The only baby I'm interested in is my daughter. Having a child was the greatest moment of my life.
Pretty soft, for a war photographer! Hey, you haven't seen my daughter.
Stephen Dupont is curator of Reportage, A Celebration of Photojournalism, running Wed 8-Sun 26 Oct at The Chauvel Cinemas, Paddington and the Australian Centre for Photography, Paddington.
Life & times
1967 Born in Sydney
1989 Covers the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia for Playboy
1993 Documents civil wars in Afghanistan and Africa
1994 Wins his first World Press Photo Award
2001 Photographs Fidel Castro in Cuba
2005 Photographs US soldiers burning Taliban bodies in Afghanistan. Wins a Robert Capa Gold Medal Citation from the Overseas Press Club of America
2006 His TV report with writer Jacques Menasche, 'Brothers of Kabul', wins a Walkley Award
2007 Receives W Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography for his ongoing Afghanistan project. Daughter Ava born
2008 Guest curator of Reportage 2008 festival in Sydney