The 26-year-old French photographer Camille Lepage had begun to establish herself as a rising star in a ferociously competitive industry when she was caught up in a deadly shoot-out between rival militia in the Central African Republic, where she had spent recent months chronicling the impoverished country's sectarian bloodletting and its impact on the civilian population.

Camille Lepage on assignment in Damara, 70 km north of Bangui, February 21, 2014. (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

Camille Lepage on assignment in Damara, 70 km north of Bangui, February 21, 2014. (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)





By Fred Dufour


PARIS, 14 May, 2014 -- I took this picture of Camille Lepage in February in Damara, 70 kilometres north of Bangui. It was a tough day. We’d gone looking for members of the anti-balaka militia -- mainly Christian fighting groups who’d clashed violently with Chadian soldiers a few days earlier.

On the way, we went through a multitude of checkpoints and the atmosphere was very tense. Militiamen, armed with grenades, Kalashnikovs and rocket-launchers were hostile to our presence. It was, perhaps, the same sort of situation that proved fatal for Camille, three months later.

I first ran into her in the Central African Republic in December 2013 but this was our first time working together. She’d asked to come with me to Damara. She was freelance, with limited finances. I immediately offered to bring her in our vehicle -- when you’re in a war zone, you help each other out.

At the end of a very stressful day, we went back to Bangui and looked for a way to unwind. It was there that we did what many a war reporter likes to do: we went to a bar, we drank and we danced. And we tried to put what we’d seen behind us. 

It’s often like this when you cover a conflict. In the morning, you might witness a shooting, or be threatened with death. In the evening, you might find yourself in a bar, drinking a beer on the terrace, or lining up at the supermarket for some dinner. It’s a surreal mix of danger and banality. 

Camille and I worked together several other several times. We got along well, and worked well together, neither getting in the way of the other.

I wish I could just hold on to the memories I have of Camille unwinding in the bar. But on hearing the circumstances of her death, it’s darker memories that are overtaking me.

Camille Lepage in a Congolese police armoured vehicle in Bangui. February 19, 2014. (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

Camille Lepage in a Congolese police armoured vehicle in Bangui. February 19, 2014. (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

Camille was tough. I took this photo of her in the front of a Congolese police armoured vehicle. The police mission that day was to take down the anti-balaka checkpoints in a Bangui neighbourhood. “You can come with us,” they said, “but you’ll need to be brave.”

They were right. We soon found ourselves in a full-on battleground. Militiamen threw grenades at us. I’d been hesitant to go, but Camille, she didn’t think twice -- her courage was impressive.

That’s not to say she was hot-headed. In Central Africa, I’ve seen young freelancers going around without any protective gear. Not Camille. She wore a bulletproof vest and a helmet, like us. She’d lived for a long time in South Sudan and knew conflict zones and had a sense of danger. She didn’t take undue risks and was very mature for someone just 26. That’s why it took me a long time to figure out how old she was.

Horrible intuition

But of course, unlike correspondents from major news outlets, who rotate into and out of hostile zones, freelancers often have to remain for long stretches. They need to sell as many stories and images as they can. Even if they don’t take bigger risks than us, the odds against them increase the longer they remain.

I hardly ever take pictures of my co-workers when I’m on assignment, and when I do, I don’t usually keep the images. I’m superstitious. When I see a colleague in my viewfinder, I find myself saying, “This better not be used to illustrate his obituary.” That’s why I could only find these two pictures of Camille. I’m not sure how, but they escaped my systematic deletion of such pictures when I came back. 

But here they are, three months later. My horrible intuition was right.

Fred Dufour is an AFP photojournalist based in Paris.

Camille Lepage who was based in South Sudan, sold many of her photos to AFP in 2012 and 2013. Here is a selection.

Refugees in the conflict-gripped South Kordofan province of South Sudan, October 29, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Refugees in the conflict-gripped South Kordofan province of South Sudan, October 29, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees play on the shell of a plane in Yida aerodrome, close to the refugee camp, February 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees play on the shell of a plane in Yida aerodrome, close to the refugee camp, February 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A child from the Bari tribe in the Gudele market in Juba, South Sudan. January 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A child from the Bari tribe in the Gudele market in Juba, South Sudan. January 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees in the Yida camp, South Sudan, February 21, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees in the Yida camp, South Sudan, February 21, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A disabled soldier during a Martyrs' Day ceremony in Juba, July 30, 2012. The ceremony pays tribute to those who died in the war with Sudan. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A disabled soldier during a Martyrs' Day ceremony in Juba, July 30, 2012. The ceremony pays tribute to those who died in the war with Sudan. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Children dance during Martyrs' Day ceremonies in Juba, July 30, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Children dance during Martyrs' Day ceremonies in Juba, July 30, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

An injured man in the hospital in Bor, South Sudan, July 15, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

An injured man in the hospital in Bor, South Sudan, July 15, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

An injured person in the hospital in Bor, South Sudan, July 15, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

An injured person in the hospital in Bor, South Sudan, July 15, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Mundari children watch their cattle in Terekeka, South Sudan, September 17, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Mundari children watch their cattle in Terekeka, South Sudan, September 17, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Mudari fishermen in South Sudan, Septemeber 17, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Mudari fishermen in South Sudan, Septemeber 17, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A member of the Lou Nuer tribe in the village of Yuai, South Sudan, July 24, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A member of the Lou Nuer tribe in the village of Yuai, South Sudan, July 24, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A Lou Nuer tribe member goes back to his village in Jonglei state, after an armed campaign against the Yau Yau rebels. July 23, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A Lou Nuer tribe member goes back to his village in Jonglei state, after an armed campaign against the Yau Yau rebels. July 23, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Another member of the Lou Nuer tribe. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Another member of the Lou Nuer tribe. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A member of the Lou Nuer tribe in the village of Yuai, South Sudan, July 24, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A member of the Lou Nuer tribe in the village of Yuai, South Sudan, July 24, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A man does a traditional dance in the refugee camp in Yida, October 29, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A man does a traditional dance in the refugee camp in Yida, October 29, 2012. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees in the Yida camp, South Sudan, February 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

Young refugees in the Yida camp, South Sudan, February 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A South Sudanese youth goes to get water in JanJang, February 2, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

A South Sudanese youth goes to get water in JanJang, February 2, 2013. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

In Juba, September 19, 2012. In the capital of South Sudan, water is pumped from the Nile and distributed in these water tanks, untreated. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)

In Juba, September 19, 2012. In the capital of South Sudan, water is pumped from the Nile and distributed in these water tanks, untreated. (AFP Photo/Camille Lepage)