Stanley Greene, one of the leading war photographers of his generation, and one of the few black photojournalists who worked internationally, died last Friday on May 19 in Paris, writes James Estrin of the New York Times. Noor Images, the photo agency that Greene helped cofound, revealed the news of his death.
Wherever conflict was, Greene went, travelling to Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among many other places. Some of his photographs were too horrific for publication. “You want to sit there comfortably with your newspaper and blueberry muffin, and you don’t want to see pictures that are going to upset your morning. That is the job of a journalist, to upset your morning,” he said.
Greene grew up in New Rochelle, New York. His father, also named Stanley, was an actor, filmmaker, and activist included on the Communist blacklist during the 1950s, which greatly affected his ability to work. His mother, Javotee Sutton Greene, was an actress. As a teenager, the young Greene joined the Black Panthers and became involved in the anti–Vietnam War movement. Though he had hopes of becoming a painter, the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith encouraged him to study photography, which he did at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he documented the city’s punk and hardcore scenes in the 1970s and 1980s. When Greene moved to Paris, he joined the Vu photo agency, which took him to Africa and the Soviet Union a great deal. In 1993, he was the only Western photographer to be in the Russian White House as a coup against the country’s president, Boris Yeltsin, was happening. A pair of photos he took amid the violence earned him World Press Photo awards (Greene went on to receive a total of five World Press Photo awards in his lifetime). Greene published a number of books, including Open Wound: Chechnya 1994–2003 (2003), and the autobiographical Black Passport (2010). His work was also featured in the exhibition “War/Photography” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2012, curated by Anne Tucker.
“The quest is to try to understand why human beings behave the way they do,” the artist wrote in regards to his profession in Black Passport. “The question is, How does this happen? And sometimes, the only way to find out is to go to where it is happening. One day the neighbors are talking to each other over the fence, and the next they are shooting at each other. Why is it that we don’t consider life precious, and instead we literally let it drip through our fingers?”