A Personal Record of the Libyan War

Five years after his coverage of the Libyan uprising, Michael Christopher Brown published a very personal, almost cathartic, book about his experience there.

Libyan_Sugar_MCB_03.jpg#asset:961© Michael Christopher Brown. LIBYA. BIN JAWAD. March 6, 2011. 16:05:59. Revolutionaries headtoward the front line, to the east of Bin Jawad. 

As photographer Michael Christopher Brown states in the introduction of his latest book, published by Twin Palms, “This book is a way to retrace my steps, and find myself along the way back home.” And this, after he covered the Libyan revolution, that soon became a war. Over the course of nine months, on and off, exhilaration gave space to anxiety and confusion; he got injured twice – once severely –; lost colleagues and friends; and Gaddafi was killed along with thousands of revolutionaries whose hopes darkened but energy nonetheless remained. His initial almost romantic drive evolved until he realized that this will never be his war, no matter how deeply he dives into it.

Libyan_Sugar_MCB_07.jpg#asset:962© Michael Christopher Brown. LIBYA. MISRATA. April 18, 2011. 12:03:04. Unidentified, at Hikma hospital. 

While the carnage unfolds and increases, photo after photo, two parallel stories unravel – that of the media coverage, through the many emails and text messages from his family, updating him constantly as they read reports from Libya. “Firing on protesters in tripoli”, his dad writes. And five minutes later: “Zawiyah has determined stands of resistance. By nytimes” Their assiduity to Libyan news, while the country has always been, as Brown confirms in the intro, foreign to America, stands as proof of their anxiety, though they mostly seem to try keeping it for themselves. “Wondering if u could update us every 2-3 days”, his mom writes. Quickly adding, “Realize may not always b poss. but an attempt.”

Their words contrast with those of Brown, whose feelings we discover through excerpts of his diary. The disconnection between the three layers of narrative is immense, almost disturbing in that it gives a sense of the full experience of war – for those who fight it, those who cover it, and those left home.

Libyan_Sugar_MCB_12.jpg#asset:963© Michael Christopher Brown. LIBYA. OUTSKIRTS OF BENGHAZI. October 23, 2011. 13:11:32. Taken from a commercial airplane. 

At some point, the level of the disaster is so high that it reaches non-sense. Text disappears, replaced by only photos, bloody, suffocating, nearly smelling death. “Sometimes I felt I was living a movie, when gestures and dress would have made more sense on a set than on a battlefield”, he writes. The extent of the horror he witnessed is staggering, and their violence is made even harsher by the fact that they were captured with an iPhone and that the intensity of the photographs fluctuates with that of the war and of his feelings.

On his last trip, he retires from the front-line, this undefined line typical of modern conflicts, to cover what’s around – the psychiatric hospital, the zoo, somehow looking for answers before leaving this deadly coastline that he shoots from the plane, further and further away - slowly leaving this reality, half-his half-foreign, that would, as himself, his dad and his sister guess along the book, change his life.

To buy the book: www.twinpalms.com/books-artists/libyan-sugar/

To stay up to date with the latest exhibition openings, artist opportunities, and photography news from around the world, follow the Photographic Museum of Humanity on and .