In 2006, New York-based freelance photographer Tim McKulka took a job with the U.N. Mission in Sudan based in the southern capital of Juba. "At the time, I had only read about Sudan from a distance, and knew some vague things about it," he says. "I certainly wasn't an analyst by any stretch." Once there, McKulka discovered that his U.N. affiliation gave him a unique freedom of movement in a country whose government is often chary about foreign journalists. After a few years he had amassed a formidable archive of images, and started thinking about what use they might serve to Africa's largest country at a moment when it was coming apart at the seams.
The result is We'll Make Our Homes Here: Sudan at the Referendum, a U.N.-published book that joins McKulka's photographs with reflections on Sudanese identity from 17 Sudanese writers, spanning everything from political analysis and journalism to fiction and poetry. (The book is being published in a limited print run by the U.N. Mission in Sudan, and will soon be available in digital form as a free iPad app.) "I had originally envisioned it as a kind of peace-building tool, to foster dialogue to let people hear other perspectives, or at least have them out there," McKulka says.
We'll Make Our Homes Here is the first book to include photography from all 25 Sudanese states -- and, thanks to South Sudan's decision in January to secede on July 9, also the last. But as Sudan splits apart and descends into a fresh round of violence between the government in Khartoum and the hinterlands, McKulka believes, it's more important than ever for the fractured country's residents to remember their shared history. "Whatever happens, [the North and the South] are going to be linked: linked by culture, linked by migration, linked economically," he says. "It's not about promoting unity -- that's an irrelevance now. It's about understanding what led to this, and what the history was."
Above, an elderly woman displaced from the town of Abyei stands on an airstrip in nearby Agok during an emergency food distribution by the World Food Program in May 2008. The fighting in Abyei between the Sudanese military and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) killed over 100 people, displaced 50,000 from their homes, and left the town in ruins.