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International Mine Action Day: Portraits by Marco Grob

3 April, 2013, Time Magazine LightBox: In honor of the United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness, observed every year on April 4, LightBox has updated this gallery with more images from Marco Grob’s ongoing project documenting lives around the globe that have been affected by land mines. Over the course of three years, in collaboration with the United Nations Mine Action Service, Grob has traveled to Afghanistan, Cambodia and, most recently, South Sudan, the newest and one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The nomadic cattle herding culture of war-torn South Sudan, in east-central Africa, makes the threat of land mines a lethal daily problem. In prior years, Grob made his portraits in a small studio set up on location; this newest series of images features a number of environmental shots that are not necessarily typical of the project. “In South Sudan the landscape was so breathtaking and new to us,” his assistant Tara Rice tells TIME, “that it seemed natural to include it in the photos.” The work, made primarily in the Mundari tribe cattle camps, will be exhibited in Juba, South Sudan, from April 4, and later this year in New York. More information available here.

It costs only about $2 to lay a land mine — but several thousand dollars to dig it out. An average of 52 people each month suffer injury from land mines in Afghanistan alone. To bring attention to the problems — food farmers are unable to plant in contaminated fields; women are unable to access water because surrounding areas are mined; citizens can’t rebuild on land because of the danger of explosion — the U.N. Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA), which works to clear 1 million mines and unexploded bombs a year in Afghanistan, approached TIME’s Marco Grob, known best for his portraiture work, to photograph Afghan land-mine victims. The photos commemorate April 4 as International Land Mine Day and are part of an exhibition that goes on view April 7, 2011, in Kabul.

Improvising a studio on a former battlefield near one of the country’s most densely contaminated minefields, Grob and his team found the snow and wind a challenge — forcing them to enlist the aid of one of the U.N. mine clearers, who held a reflector over subjects’ heads to keep the snow off them. When approaching each subject, Grob says, with time to get only four of five exposures, he didn’t want to showcase their injuries. “I choose to concentrate on their faces and the textures of Afghanistan.”

Grob, a former soldier in the Swiss army who was trained in laying mines, says his work is far from over. Funding — which is used to train and employ 14,000 men across Afghanistan, providing livelihoods while cleaning up communities — is the only obstacle to ridding Afghanistan of mines. With donations, Afghanistan could be cleared of mines in years instead of decades. “I hope my work helps to raise awareness,” says Grob, “and will help keep the required money flowing.”

— by Deirdre Van Dyk

View Grob's photos in the UNMAS photo gallery.