Over the past 17 years, I have worked on some very interesting and different stories, none has ever come close to the Miss Landmine Beauty Pageant I photographed in Angola in 2008.
Before her death, Princess Diana brought the devastation caused by landmines to the world’s attention. Miss Landmine is the brainchild of a theater director who wanted to give these women the chance to celebrate their inner and outer beauty.
Emilia Luzia is hoping desperately that her ex-husband will see her on television tonight. Her hair is in large white rollers in preparation for what she says is set to be the most important night of her life. We are in CineTropico, a huge nightclub in the center of Angola’s capital, Luanda. As guests start arriving for Miss Landmine, none of the 18 contestants – one representing each of Angola’s provinces – seem particularly fazed by all the attention. One woman carries a baby on her back; another is nine months pregnant. All have been maimed in landmine explosions.
Angola has more landmine victims than most other countries — millions of mines were planted across the country during a bloody 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. Precise figures of landmine casualties are not known, but hundreds have been killed, and it’s estimated as many as 80,000 have been injured. Despite an extensive demining program since the end of the war, Angola remains one of the most mined countries in Africa, and an estimated 300-400 people have been injured by mines every year since the war ended.