Like several photoreporters who started working in the 1970s and came to maturity in the 1980s, John Vink became impatient with the apocalyptic stories published in magazines about the Third World.
Instead of thinking of history in such black-and-white terms, Vink’s tactic since the 1980s has been, on the contrary, to show the viewer how other places and cultures are already familiar to us because they are part of the total fabric of the world, and to define the photographer as just another participant in the daily round whose role is to make introductions.
Born in 1948, Vink studied photography at La Cambre University in Brussels and started work as an independent photographer in 1971. Since the mid-1980s he has dedicated his time to long-term projects, the first of which was on Italy (1984-88).
Vink came to public attention in 1986 when he was awarded the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography for Water in Sahel, a two-year documentary project on water management in rural and urban areas, involving migrant and sedentary populations of the Niger, Mali, Burkina-Faso and Senegal.
In 1986 Vink joined Vu agency in Paris, then from 1987 to 1993 worked on Refugees in the World, an extensive statement about life in refugee camps in India, Mexico, Thailand, Pakistan, Hungary, Iraq, Malawi, Bangladesh, Turkey, Sudan, Croatia, Honduras and Angola. The series was then published in book (Photonotes collection) and CD-ROM form and became the subject of an exhibit at Paris’s Centre National de la Photographie.
In 1993 Vink became a nominee at Magnum Photos, and a full member in 1997.
Other recent projects by Vink include Peuples d’En Haut, a series of chronicles that he started in 1993 on communities living in mountainous areas such as Guatemala, Laos, Georgia: he stresses how this natural defense, because of the difficult living conditions, has built strong people aware of their cultural identity. A book with this work was published in September 2004 by Editions Autrement.
Wishing to concentrate on one country instead of continuously travelling, he is based in Cambodia since 2000, a country he visits since 1989. He currently mainly documents land issues all over Cambodia but also covers other social issues as well as the Khmer Rouge trial. Other recent books are Avoir Vingt Ans a Phnom Penh, published by Editions Alternatives and Poids Mouche, self published.