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When I was five years old, my father gave me a book that made a great impression on me; it was “From Chad to the Rhine”. I was bored at school, and sometimes at home too, but fortunately there was a book at home by Izis and Colette called “Paradise on Earth”, and another book called “The Parisian Dream City”. Then there was always the Louvre museum, the only place I was allowed to go by myself, and I used to go every week. When I was 17, I went to design school; I discovered freedom, and photography exhibitions at Delpire’s gallery in the rue de l’Abbaye, and the “Palette” café. The Merlin brothers were friends I met at the time. Dominique Merlin was a cameraman and had worked on “La Section Anderson” by Pierre Schöendoerffer. From then on I had just one idea in mind and that was to go to Vietnam and become a photographer.

In 1968, there was an extraordinary photographer, Gilles Caron, with Gamma, and I wanted to be with the same agency, but you had to prove yourself to get accepted. So I set off for Saigon in September 1969. Two years later, when I came back, I joined Gamma (I am not anymore with Gamma). The reports came in, one after the other: Chile, Mozambique, Russia, South Africa, and Chad; I first went to Chad in 1975, at the time when Françoise Claustre was taken hostage. I spent two years with the rebels in northern Chad. My children were born in 1983 and 1987. I started doing fashion photography and advertising. In 1993, even though I had my family to look after, I went to Bosnia. That will be my last war. Four years ago my ideal came true when I found the Woodabés. They are people who do not fight, who love one another, who love their cows; they are people I admire and I have decided to photograph each and every face.

Marie-Laure de Decker

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