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Sippin' Suds in Sarajevo with Tim Freccia

Tim Freccia is the type of photographer who marches through the sketchiest parts of the sketchiest regions in the world to bring all of us lazy voyeurs insight into a side of humanity we’d never know if it weren’t for people like him. For our
July 28, 2011, 12:00am

Tim Freccia is the type of photographer who marches through the sketchiest parts of the sketchiest regions in the world to bring all of us lazy voyeurs insight into a side of humanity we'd never know if it weren't for people like him. For our Photo Issue, Tim submitted The Cowboys of Yirol, a series he shot while hanging out with the seven-foot-tall Dinka tribesmen in southern Sudan.

When I called Tim I expected him to be hunkered down somewhere like Mogadishu, South Sudan, Congo, or northern Kenya like he was in the days and months leading up to my call. Instead, he was enjoying a cold one in Sarajevo, taking a breather for the first time after four years of intense traveling and picture-taking throughout most of Africa.

VICE: Hi Tim. Where are you today?
Tim: I'm in Sarajevo. I just decamped from the Dark Continent and I'm gonna hang out here for a while. I've been in constant motion for years now. I'm here to slow down and take a break.

So you're not in Sarajevo to cover anything in particular?
I'm not doing ANYTHING at the moment, besides drinking a beer. To be honest, I'm just in shock right now. It's pretty crazy to be back in civilization. This has been a particularly long run for me. I've been in motion nonstop for four years, going through all of East Africa, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. That's why this retreat, this decompression and return to civilization, is particularly crazy for me. Just last week I was in Juba, Libya before that, and Congo right before that. I feel like I just magically appeared in the middle of summer in Southern Europe with electricity, Internet, running water, and good food.

I was just reading the Robert Frank biography, Blood and Champagne, and it makes photographing war and conflict seem so much more romantic than I imagine it to be. Every night he plays poker, drinks wine, and does a bit of womanizing. But that was Europe in the run up to World War II, not present-day African nations in the midst of war and humanitarian crises. What's it like for you?
It's definitely not so romantic, and the wine is hard to get. A lot of it is just marching. Death marches through the jungle, no food, loose stools, bad water, that kind of stuff. It's mostly sheer endurance.

I'm sure there's some reason you do this for a living. What keeps you going?
Once in a while I get what I consider to be a powerful image. Even if no one else agrees, if I feel like I've captured a powerful image, that's exactly why I do it. But really, a lot of it is very boring. Excitement is short and far between, but somehow it's worth it when I get an image that I'm happy with. Sometimes it's an image that others are happy with, too, and that helps. That soothes my ego a little bit.

Compared to a lot of your other work, the series you shot for our Photo Issue about the Dinka herdsmen in southern Sudan seems more like a fine art series. Do you normally focus on pure journalism when you're working, or do you also think about art?
I think about art a lot. One of the reasons I'm in Sarajevo right now is to reassess things and think about doing more stuff like that series. It has nothing to do with the logistics and mechanics of getting a conflict image or a crisis image. The Yirol Cowboy stuff is purely art. It's about these beautiful people, and it has nothing to do with conflict or crisis. That's one of the reasons I'm enjoying the beer and food and the film festival in Sarajevo. I want to stop and think about that a little bit and figure out what I want to do next.