By Jane Mahoney
Ben Bohane’s career wrap sheet is a resumé with nary a dull moment – a career memory spanning more than 20 years across many parts of a troubled globe.
The renowned photojournalist, who now lives in Vanuatu, continues travelling, reporting and above all documenting his exploits with galleries of arresting pictures.
Returning to Port Vila this month after his latest journey abroad, Mr Bohane spoke with visiting journalists about his passion for the Pacific and his career in news media.
Mr Bohane began his journalism career in the late 1980’s with a cadetship at Stiletto, a Melbourne based alternative lifestyle magazine that he describes as a “punk-street-rag.”
He undertook his first major assignment in 1989, at 19, covering the withdrawal of the Vietnamese army from Cambodia, which marked the end of a decade long conflict.
He remained based in Indo-china for four years, where his growing interest in photography both provided the means to produce neatly packaged freelance, and peaked an interest in social justice.
“I thought if there was more reporting on certain issues, it might have an impact and might help change. I don’t live under those same illusions, however the motivation is still there,” he says.
In 1994, Mr Bohane covered the Bougainville War in Papua New Guinea and secured the first images of Francis Ona, the leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA).
During this time he first observed how Australian news media give little coverage to issues in the South Pacific, despite proximity, economic ties and major aid programs supported by Australia across the region.
“When I came into this region I realised there were all these other incredible stories going on, some of which Australia was directly involved in and people had no idea,” he says.
The realisation marked a change that saw Mr Bohane eventually base himself in Vanuatu. Today, he markets high quality pictures and reportage on the Pacific through Wakaphotos, an agency he set up with some partners; Mr Bohan also works as Communications Director for the non-governmental agency, the Pacific Institute of Public Affairs (PIPP).
He still laments Australia’s lack of broad involvement in the South Pacific region.
“I think we do neglect it, I think the media neglect it”, he says.
Many crucial changes are being identified by the PIPP, he says, which can go unnoticed despite occurring on Australia’s doorstep; sometimes deep problems in economic development or human rights. “
Most of these countries are 30 to 40 years down the track from independence and frankly the political structure as it exists is not really working well,” he says.
Though these comments refer primarily to Fiji, just now coming out of another period of military rule; he finds signs of growing disenchantment with the electoral process in many parts of the Pacific, particularly amongst younger voters.
Ben Bohane has spent the last two decades championing issues concerning the Pacific and has published two photo books on the region: Following the Morning Star was published in 2003 and documented the West Papuan struggle for independence.
After finding it difficult to garner support or interest for issues of the South Pacific amongst Europe and America publications, Mr Bohane joined with other veteran photographers to compile their photo archives and founded Wakaphotos, he says the first ever Pacific photo agency.
The collection, says Ben Bohane, aims to portray the Pacific as more than just tropical sunsets and give depth to the lives of those who inhabit the region.
“It’s about making sure you can draw attention to really import issues and being witness to the impact of ideas on human beings.”