The photo series Bosnia | Losing Innocence (Dutch title: Bosnië | Verloren onschuld) is about photographer Esther Cappon’s first military mission in Bosnia. Cappon (pictured on the left) was 22 years old at the time. One of the photographs of this series – suitably called ‘Period’ – shows a stylised bloody tampon. ‘That picture represents my femininity in a men’s world. But because of the way it’s been photographed, you could also view it as a launched rocket, stained with blood.’
There’s no privacy at all in a war situation, explains Cappon, who was working in the professional military for eight years, including half a year as a sergeant in Bosnia. ‘At the base there were about 400 men and only a handful of women. I lived together with six men in a small house. Bit by bit you lose your femininity; your innocence. But every month again you’re reminded of the fact you’re a woman.’
She got the idea for the intimate series when stumbling upon a box of stuff from her Bosnia-time, in her parents’ attic. This evoked memories of a tough time. ‘Being confronted with the destruction of war. Being a female in a men’s world. It all had a deep impact on my identity. Feeling vulnerable while carrying a weapon 24/7. Acting tough when you feel weak. It was part of my daily life there; a constant struggle that shaped my personality forever.’
‘Apparently we’re more shocked by a tampon than by weapons, hand grenades and buildings that have been blown to bits’
The series Bosnia | Losing Innocence is still in development. ‘I intend for it to contain twelve pictures, in four different colour shades.’ Colour is a characteristic of Cappon’s portfolio, no matter whether it’s her own work or a commission. The soft shades she’s used here easily mislead the viewers. Just look at Surpise! (pictured below). This picture of a hand grenade disguised as a surprise-egg is inspired by her experiences in a destroyed and partly deserted Sarajevo. While mines were still being cleared out, children played with weaponry that was left in the streets.
Bosnia | Losing Innocence, supplemented by private pictures and souvenirs from the war zone, as well as parts of letters to the home front, was on show early February at Rotterdam Photo, an exhibition in the Netherlands. There, the photographer discovered something remarkable: ‘Visitors reacted most strongly to the tampon picture; some even used it as background for a selfie. That although the photo of the hand grenade was hanging next to it. Apparently we’re more shocked by a tampon than by weapons, hand grenades and buildings that have been blown to bits. This came as a surprise to me.’
Meanwhile, Cappon has left the army. In 2014 she graduated from the Dutch Fotoacademie. Currently she’s working as a photographer fulltime, specialising in colourful still life photographs inspired by nature.
In the Netherlands next month? ‘Period’ and ‘Surprise!’ can be seen on May 28th during the Menstrual Hygiene Day event in Utrecht. For more photographs and/or information, visit esthercappon.nl.