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A PMF-1 Butterfly Mine photo © Rob Johns

Journey to Safety Refugee Project, Red Cross - Rob Johns, 2006

1 November 2013

The small, brightly coloured, plastic object in the photograph looks innocuous enough but is in fact, a lethal military weapon. Used by the Russian army, the PFM-1, anti-infantry high-explosive mine, also known as a ‘butterfly mine,’ was scattered from helicopters and from artillery during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Many of the victims were children, who mistook it for a toy. Those who did survive lost limbs and faced a lifetime of pain and shattered dreams.This is the reality of war faced by millions of refugees around the world who want nothing more than to escape to a better life somewhere else.

I was on assignment for the Red Cross documenting a programme designed to help young people understand the plight of refugees. It was a difficult shoot in many ways and faced with a busy environment the natural reaction is to capture all that is going on, but you reach a point when you need to take a step back, pause and just think for a moment to add something more powerful or significant to the set.

So I decided to make this picture. I didn’t want to have a face in the frame, it would be a distraction and irrelevant. The picture had to be symbolic of the many victims and the focus had to be on the high-explosive mine resting in the hands of a child, something that should never happen.

That twisted reality was all that was needed, everything else was irrelevant. The camera was a Canon 5d (MkI) with a 24-70mm 2.8L lens and I set the depth of field deliberately shallow.

As I perched on a chair, I held my breath and released the shutter.

This simple picture with a powerful message reminds me of another image I made following the tsunami in Sri Lanka: a lone sandal caught up on barbed wire against a background of destruction, which can be seen in the charity gallery on my website.

Photography is my passion and although my work has expanded it remains rooted in photojournalism. What I enjoy most are assignments that serve to inform and educate and work towards making a positive difference, however small, to the lives of others.

Rob Johns is an award-winning freelance photographer shooting editorial work for a wide range of magazines and charities. He trained at the London College of Communication where he gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Photojournalism and went on to work as a staff photographer for a busy regional newspaper.

Having established himself as an independent photographer Rob returned to the London College of Communication in 2006 as an Associate Lecturer teaching photojournalism. In 2009 he gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching and continues to share his passion through teaching at Idea Store Learning in Tower Hamlets, London as well as run his own photography courses.

In his spare time Rob captures the world through street photography and is working on a number of personal projects including one documenting Margate. He has an exhibition of his work scheduled for November at the Idea Store in Canary Wharf, London.

Photographer since 1990, EPUK member since 2001.

See more work by Rob Johns

See more work by Rob Johns

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