Sun streams through a grid of skylights,
carving the gallery’s wooden floor into a
checkerboard. When I look up, I can see
wispy clouds passing overhead. Large photos hang on the gallery walls. They’re pictures of landscapes devastated by war and
portraits of men fighting in those wars.
I hear footsteps behind me. I turn
around and watch two figures enter the
room and take up stations in front of
the portraits. They’re the men from the
An unseen narrator explains that the
shorter one, Jean de Dieu, was a child sol-
dier recruited by the Democratic Forces
for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). It’s
a Hutu group waging war against Rwanda
from its base in the eastern part of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. The
other, Patient, is a sergeant in the Congo-
lese army, which is allied with Rwanda’s
ruling Tutsi ethnic group.
I know they’re both virtual characters, re-created through 3-D scanning and
computer graphics. But they’re startlingly
realistic—far more lifelike than anything
I’ve seen in a game or movie.
As I approach Jean de Dieu, who looks
sad and tired, a conversation begins. The
narrator asks: Who is your enemy? What
is violence for you? What makes your
enemy inhuman? Jean answers in halting, vulnerable tones. I listen to his story
of being forced into a refugee camp at
age 11 and seeing Congolese militia kill
his parents, their brains splattering onto
him. Of course he’d hate the Tutsi, and
everyone aligned with them.
Now the narrator quizzes Patient. He
says the army pursues the FDLR because
its soldiers rob, rape, and murder Congolese citizens. “He has no human values and can no longer change his mind,”
A project by Karim Ben Khelifa
A pioneering photojournalist hopes VR can restore war
photography’s dramatic power to influence and inform us.
By Wade Roush
Photographs by Karim Ben Khelifa
Top: Jean de Dieu (left) fled Rwanda
as a child and watched as militia in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
killed his parents. Patient (right) fights
for the Congolese Army.
Bottom: Amilcar Vladimir (left) and
Jorge Alberto (right) are members of
warring gangs in El Salvador.