If you’re looking for answers to senseless death, then this book about journalist-cide will disappoint you. The Silencing, by Alix Lambert and published by Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press, is about stores of real warriors for freedom. The pages are eulogies about loved ones and read as though you’re listening in on a private conversation between an immediate family member and mourners at a funeral. The black and white photos are not gruesome faces frozen in death. Rather they are empty sets where the scene of a murder played out some time ago. You can’t help but reach to the page, trailing your fingers over the images like you would a corpse at a funeral, to find closure somehow in the touch. The photos feel gritty like the gristle of death. They’re surreal, at once other worldly yet grotesque with the incomprehensible pain of a government sponsored murder.
By Kriss Perras
Each of the six stories is very personal, the writer confounded by the loss yet determined to make sense of it all. One such story Lambert tells us is about Paul Klebnikov, Russian born but an American investigative journalist who was shot ten times in Moscow, gunned down by Schechin automatic pistols just outside his workplace. The two men who shot him drove off in a car with tinted windows as Paul was attended to on the street by his close colleague, Sasha Gordeyev of Newsweek Russia. Paul told Sasha he had trouble breathing but to let his family know he’d be OK. He died in an elevator in a hospital. Paul’s story is told by his brother Peter and begins with a tale about two brothers when they were kids in Albany playing a game about Native Americans. The two murderers escaped to the Middle East after a trial that was conducted for show only.
“If you’re looking for answers to senseless death, then this book about journalist-cide will disappoint you.” Kriss Perras
Paul’s story is one of the six journalists, not all of whom even have this much information to bring back to their families. The only common thread for these fallen journalistic heroes is they each spoke the truth, so much so that Moscow took notice and whacked them Mafia-style to send a message to other journalists. If you report the truth, you will die.
Alix Lambert interviewed with this magazine. Lambert is articulate, compassionate and driven to expose the denial of freedom of the press in Russia through these six stories. The following is a Q&A with the author and Photogrpaher, Alix Lambert on her new book, The Silencing.
PERRAS: How did this book project come about? Was it always a Perceval project?
LAMBERT: I made a documentary in the Russian prisons in 2000 called the Mark of Cain. When I was working on that film, which was a very difficult shot, Peter Klebnikov was very supportive. He and his brother, Paul, gave me their apartment in Moscow to live in and were supportive in other ways as well. I have always believed in the importance of a free press and have done a few other pieces on the subject. When Paul was killed, I was shocked. Originally I proposed the project somewhere else and was told they would run it – but they did not. Viggo really did save the day, not only by publishing it, but by allowing me and encouraging me to make the book I wanted to make which is a true gift he gives the artists and authors he works with.
PERRAS: Tell us the story of Anna Politkovskaya’s death, the actual way she died?
LAMBERT: The details of Anna’s death are not all known beyond what is in the book. The photographs of the elevator shaft where she died is definitely where she was killed. And when I was there taking pictures no one would go in with me. Fear of surveillance. I think her son speaks eloquently about what she was reporting on, her passion for her work and family. And the chapter heading gives the facts as to weapon, location, age, etc.
PERRAS: The photos in the book actually feel gritty, like the grit of death. Was it a conscious decision to make the photos in the book physically feel gritty and text feel silky?
LAMBERT: Yes, I wanted very much for the photographs to tell a story of their own. A different story than that of the interviews. A peak into a world without journalists or free press. I wanted always for them to be in black and white, and I wanted the feeling of the places holding memory within them. I tried to achieve that.
PERRAS: Why is the subject of freedom of the press so important to you in connection to Russia?
LAMBERT: I think the subject of press freedom is important to me worldwide. I chose Russia to illustrate that importance for two reasons. First, because Russia is one of the top three places in the world where this problem is at its worst, and if you exclude the war zones it moves even upward. The second reason is because I had a personal connection. I always think the way to tell a bigger story is through a smaller more personal one.
PERRAS: Part of the appeal of the book seems to be not just a juxtaposition of Russia to the United States, but also a parable. Do you think the subject of Panfilov’s section about state controlled media is applicable to the United Staes and not just Russia?
LAMBERT: I have watched the loss of press freedom in the United States with great dismay. I interviewed my dear friend Leroy Sievers, Executive Producer for Nightline for many years, on the death of news a few years back for LA Weekly. We do not have the same problem of murdering journalists, but certainly we’re facing serious problems in this country as to the state of our “news” – I think it’s an amazing time we find ourselves in when the best television news is on the comedy channel, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart. I think people are not paying attention and one day they will be sorry they didn’t.
PERRAS: Some feel we’re still or already in another Cold War with Russia. Do you think your book touches on this subject with ideas mentioned such as Milosevic not being mentioned in Yugoslavia reports and NATO atrocities were the focus of much Russia journalistic attention?
LAMBERT: I wanted to focus mainly on the press freedom issue. There are endless issues in any country that can be explored. I was hoping the interviews would illuminate some the wonderful aspects of Russia, and I think they did.
Anna Politkovskaya was killed October 9, 2006 in an elevator shaft with a plastic 9mm Makarov pistol whip reporting on the Chechen conflict. She was 48 years old. The status of her murder is still unsolved. Her story is told by her son, Ilya.
The Silencing is available from Perceval Press:
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