Jake R. Rutherford - Visual Storyteller
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Landmines + UXO

When I walked into a minefield on day 1 of a week long assignment with Bittersweet Monthly in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), I received a modicum of insight into what life must be living among the explosive vestiges of the decades ago war. We were there to understand and convey this reality while highlight the work Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) and their local partners are doing in the region to remediate this issue.

Project Scope: Story Research & Development, Photography, Photo Editing

Publication: A Land of Honey, Plums and Landmines • Bittersweet Monthly, October 2018

Organization: Marshall Legacy Institute

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WHEN I WALKED INTO A MINEFIELD

on day 1 of a week long assignment with Bittersweet Monthly in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), I received a modicum of insight into what life must be living among the explosive vestiges of the decades ago war. We were there to understand and convey this reality while highlighting the work Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) and their local partners are doing in the region to remediate this issue.

Project Scope:
Story Research & Development, Photography, Photo Editing

Publication:
A Land of Honey, Plums and LandminesBittersweet Monthly, October 2018

Organization:
Marshall Legacy Institute

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BiH is considered the most heavily mine affected nation in Europe, remnants of the conflict related to the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Twenty years after the war that dominated the
Balkans in the 90s, ongoing threats, damage, and societal implications still exist.

CHALLENGE

Collaborating with Bittersweet Monthly we sought to highlight Marshall Legacy Institute’s decades old work to support survivors and eliminate landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) in BiH.

Beyond those who are physically harmed by these threats, landmines and UXOs affect everyone in a community, regardless of age, ethnicity, and occupation. It affects both local and national economies and the land itself from being restored post-conflict.

Our challenge: How could we demonstrate the diversity of impact that landmines and UXO have on BiH and cover the breadth of MLI’s specific programs, while maintaining the thread that ties the story together in a way that enables audience awareness and engagement?

STRATEGY

We decided that the photographic portion of the story would focus on portraying the volume of affected entities. It would be a story pillar, weave together the complexity of the issue, the programs of MLI, the communities, and landscapes affected. Meanwhile the written story and the audio would focus on contextualizing the individual stories, and the film would focus on the emotional frequency that the issue carries.

We consolidated four essential and overlapping story themes:
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Those Who Survived
- Those Economies Impacted
- Those Who Educate & Support
- Those Who Find & Remove

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Those Who Survived

We first focused on those who were directly and physically impacted by the issue and the relationships that are developed surrounding their injuries. The majority of landmine victims are civilians, therefore we sought the balance between those who were injured in battle or in the post-conflict years.

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Those Economies Impacted

Many of the remaining mine-impacted communities in BiH are rural and the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. Farmers and their equipment can be maimed or destroyed and portions of land are unsafe to convert into economically viable croplands. Home builders have to de-mine their properties themselves by hand or await remediation services prior to construction. The conflict has had lasting micro and macro effects on the economy of BiH.

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Those Who Educate
& Support

There is a web of people and entities who support landmine survivors and removal efforts while raising awareness and funds for the cause. Government agencies, international and local non-profits, case workers, and globe-spanning student initiatives are leading the effort.

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Those Who Find
& Remove

There are specially trained teams of everyday heroes that are dedicated to the safe process of locating, identifying, and removal of threats. Mine dog detection teams, trainers, mine locators, demolition teams, local guides, and experts are on the front lines of landmine and UXO remediation.

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Investing in Marshall Legacy means creating an immediately (quantifiably) less dangerous world, particularly for children in conflict and post-conflict areas. Few stories rival this one in terms of existential urgency and necessity.
— KATE SCHMIDGALL, Editor, Bittersweet Monthly

IMPACT

When you are working in the realm of changing attitudes and awareness, impact can only be seen in the long term. However, there are several short term applications and achievements that initiate the progress.

  • Immediate social media deployment of visual assets by MLI to raise support and year-end giving

  • MLI commissioned select portraits from the story to be printed, mounted and featured at the annual fundraising Gala and later hung at their world headquarters

  • A printed version of the story was used for MLI’s year-end board gathering to further illustrate the program’s effectiveness and foster the emotional connection to the work the organization has been doing for decades

  • The printed version of the story is generating and aiding organization and government agency support for post-war remediation efforts

 

The primary outlet for the story was the Bittersweet Monthly online publication which directs readers to the MLI donation page for those who wish to support.

We are so excited to see our work featured in such a compelling way. It is so valuable for us to have such high quality pictures to use in our publicity materials. We are already getting a huge amount of positive feedback from the story, which was outstanding.
— Tycie Horsley, VP of Development, Marshall Legacy Institute
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Above: Immediate social media deployment of visual assets by MLI and Bittersweet Monthly to raise awareness, support and year-end giving.
Below: Select prints covering aspects of the MLI program being made and displayed at the MLI annual Gala in Arlington, Virginia.