"I want to confront people with the consequences of their choices and encourage them to be more critical."

Made in Maastricht: Jan-Joseph Stok

Friday 24 February marked a momentous occasion for alum Jan-Joseph Stok. Following six years of hard work, the documentary Che in Congo - A Dream of Liberation on which he collaborated with producer/director Ben Crowe saw its European premiere at the international documentary festival DOCfeed in Eindhoven. Che in Congo is a multidisciplinary project (including publications, a photo album, a documentary, exhibitions and a non-fiction book) about Che Guevara's secret mission in Congo (1965), which is used to compare the situation in Congo at the time to the present situation and call attention to it. Thanks to its bountiful natural resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the most dominant and richest nations on the African continent. However, this wealth has also proved to be a curse, as Congo has been riven by conflict and insecurity for years.

Despite the presence of the United Nations (through its MONUSCO peacekeeping force of more than 17,000 troops) and many international aid organisations, this instability refuses to go away. As a photojournalist, Jan-Joseph Stok considers it his duty to capture this harsh reality and use it to stoke the debate. "I view my work as a success if it stimulates others to become more aware about what is happening in the world and to take action."

Jan-Joseph graduated from the Fotoacademie in Amsterdam at a young age and has since spent his time travelling for photo reports, mainly across the African continent. After completing his studies at the Fotoacademie, he realised that an understanding of the local situation would put him in a better position to prepare for his reports. This desire made him decide to study European Studies in Maastricht. While there, he met many kindred spirits among his fellow students. European Studies lecturer Bernard Rulof noticed his passion and encouraged him to become an exchange student for six months at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus. Jan-Joseph still benefits every day from the knowledge that he acquired there and during his studies at UM. Shortly after graduating, he won the annual prize for most promising young photojournalist under the age of 30 at the Silver Camera Awards and moved to London in order to complete a master's programme in Photojournalism.

He has specialised in conflict and post-conflict zones, working in 26 African countries. For many years, he was a freelance photographer for newspapers including Trouw. Nowadays, he mainly works for international clients (both newspapers and magazines). While the murder of his colleague Jeroen Oerlemans in Libya (2016) had a profound effect on him, his dedication continues to trump every danger and hardship encountered during his missions. "This way, I feel that I can make the best contribution to a better world. I am tremendously proud to continue in a profession in which I believe and which allows me to express myself fully. Since important stories need to be told, there is no way to do so more powerful than through photography, in my opinion."

For Jan-Joseph, success is not defined by red carpets, personal fame or pretty pictures, but by the number of people that he is able to give food for thought or goad into action. He remains in regular touch with fellow UM alums who have also remained socially aware and are now working for international aid organisations, government entities or the diplomatic service. "We still exchange ideas and experiences."

For safety reasons, he is tight-lipped about his upcoming travels. One thing is for certain, however: "I want to confront people with the consequences of their mass consumption as well as the specific choices that they have made, and encourage them to reconsider as well as to be more critical."

If you are able, visit Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam on 13 April, when Jan-Joseph Stok will give a presentation about the Che in Congo project. For more information, go to www.cheincongo.com.

By Charlotte Groven, March 2018