For almost thirty years, he has been using his camera to capture the worst wartime conflicts as well as humanitarian and natural disasters across the globe. He has taken over two hundred trips to the most dangerous areas of the world. He survived all of them thanks to the fact that he takes care of his health and tries to keep fit.

What fascinates you the most about journalistic photography?

I realized I was comfortable with the way I worked. It’s not just about going away, but mainly about the ability to improvise – to be able to react quickly, to buy cheap tickets and, above all, to gain the trust of the people there. I enjoy it and it suits me at the same time. I long to understand the things I see, and by seeing them with my own eyes, I can form a judgment. An example may be photographing people infected with AIDS. In Ukraine, it is a total taboo; people are ashamed of their illness, and will not even tell their closest loved ones. I went to that country about six times before I gained their trust and they let me take a picture of them.

Ukraine, people infected with AIDS. Photo: Jan Šibík

The paths you’ve taken map global catastrophes, whether natural, war or epidemic, from the late eighties to the present. How do you deal with the mountain of misfortune that you see through the lens?

People often ask me how I can handle all the misfortune. The reality, however, is staying is the affected country is not as dramatic as it may seem. Although it‘s rough, I’m only in the country for fourteen days and then I’m going back. But the people who live in it have no place to return to. That’s why sharing is easier for me than for them. On the other hand, people who have been living in misery for thirty years, like in Afghanistan, can not live indefinitely in psychological tension and depression. There are streets in Kabul where they are shooting at each other, and just three streets down there are kids kicking a ball around. I think our civilized world is very fragile; we experience everything far more than the people to whom the bad things are really happening.

Afghanistan, life in the shadow of shooting. Photo: Jan Šibík

What do you think is most important about working in a high risk area?

For me, the most important thing is sleep. This is sometimes difficult, because the moments that I‘ve seen through the day are chasing me. Previously, I practiced sleeping before going, sleeping on a hard floor, and trying to get used to the harsh conditions. But it is difficult to influence the mind at home, because I experience the strongest emotions in the place. But if I wanted to shoot all day, I couldn‘t afford to be tired and exhausted. I had to learn to calm my mind.

How do you eliminate fear?

I don’t eliminate it, because fear is a good policy. When you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you are always afraid, but fear also protects you from risky and irrational steps. Nowadays, there is more fear, and that includes kidnappings, which weren’t so bad in the past and which I consider to be worse than the most dangerous warfare. I don’t underestimate the risk of kidnappings and prefer to avoid such places.

With colleague, famous war photographer James Nachtwey, in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Photo: sibik.cz

You need control when you are in the epicenters of conflicts. When you’re at home, do you try to strengthen your immune system and take care of your health?

Yes, health is one of my important life priorities. If I want to continue to travel and shoot, I need to physically endure. I try to eat well and also to do sport. I used to run for Slavia, and today I do sport recreationally, but consistently. I enjoy using iPhone apps, pedometers that inform me how many steps I’ve taken a day. On the one hand it’s a game, and on the other hand it’s motivation to do something for my fitness. Although I walk quite a bit, I decided to buy a bike again and I’m looking forward to riding.

Do you consider prevention and regular medical examinations important for your health? 

I realize that even prevention is important. In addition to the malaria I once contrated, nothing more serious has happened to me, yet I certainly do not underestimate various medical examinations. They are important not only for my profession, but the fact that I am at the age when the people I know begin to have health problems is motivation as well. I am convinced that if they practiced prevention, they would not have to go for examinations at all. The death of someone I know always stops me in my tracks. That’s why I try to take care of myself.

In front of the Prague Old Town Hall, where the Ten Years exhibition was held at the beginning of the year. Photo: twicopy.org/JanSibik/

What message would you want to pass on with the experience you‘ve gained?

One of the things I realized on the road is that in third world countries a lot of people die of common illnesses. The only reason is that no one can help them. They are not vaccinated, and they do not have the professional health workers that we have in civilized countries. And only because they were unfortunately born in South Sudan or Somalia. If they were born here, they would be helped. The world is very unfair. On the road, we become aware of the world we live in. And this should guide our behavior.

Jan Šibík, *1963

Prominent Czech journalistic photographer, holder of a number of prestigious awards in the Czech Republic and abroad. In the Czech PressPhoto competition he won forty-five awards in various categories, of which twice the main prize. In 2004, he was third in the Sports Stories category in the World Press Photo competition. He is the laureate of the June 1 Award, awarded by the City of Pilsen for the dissemination of ideas of democracy and the defense of human rights. He worked for Mladý svět and Reflex magazines (1993-2013) and has been a freelancer since 2014. He has published several books, and this year his novel “Ten Years” was published. He lives and works in Prague.

Vydal několik knih, letos mu vyšla novinka s názvem Deset let. Žije a pracuje v Praze.

www.sibik.cz

Text: Šárka Dumbrovská