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Stanley Greene was a war photographer, but his photographs were like poetry.

He died this month, at the age of 68, after being treated for cancer.

Greene, who was one of the few African American photojournalists who worked internationally, covering conflicts in Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Serbia, often stayed longer, and got closer, than any other journalists dared to.

His photographs stood out, in part because of their daring, but also because of their sensibility.

Before becoming a war photographer, Greene was a fashion photographer. And he didn’t leave those days completely behind him. His fingers were always heavy with rings. He loved bandanas, and he often wore a pair of John Lennon sunglasses.

“He was a gorgeous man, and I think he also really appreciated people who had some style,” says Nina Berman, who worked with Greene at the photo agency he helped found, NOOR Images. “So, you'd walk on the street with Stanley, and he would notice how other people dress. Which is very unusual in the photojournalism community, as people tend to dress all the same.”

Greene brought that appreciation for beauty and found it even in the darkest places. For example, in Chechnya during the war in the 2000s. 

“His most famous picture may be ... this woman in the window, with kind of misty rain and fog on the window, looking out, and she had you know, lost her child,” says Berman.

Zelina, after the death of her child. Grozny, April 2001.

Stanley Greene/Noor

This photo is heartbreaking, but also gorgeous, reminiscent almost of work by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

“He made remarkable pictures of women, which is another thing that’s really different about Stanley,” says Berman. “Most war photographers only photograph men; Stanley didn’t just do that, he wanted to see everybody.”

Asya with an AK-47 assault rifle in a car in Chechnya, 2006.

Stanley Greene/Noor

But going to conflict zones, and looking at people — really seeing them — came at a cost. In his book "Black Passport," Greene wrote about how covering war changed him, and in some ways broke him.

“I think you can only keep positive for eight years,” Greene wrote. “If you stay at it longer than that, you turn. … I see it in myself, and I see it in all my friends and colleagues. We are all victims of post-traumatic stress and deal with it in different ways. And we’re not beautiful butterflies anymore. We’ve become moths. And what a moth does, it flies into the flame.”

But Berman says that Greene would rarely talk about how his experiences covering war impacted him.

She says one time, she and other photographers from the NOOR photo agency were meeting on a boat in Amsterdam, and Greene came too, shortly after arriving from Aleppo. 

“He comes walking in, and his hands were literally like cut, and bloody, and infected,” says Berman. “And he was just was matter of fact about it. He was an extremely stoic person." 

Stanley Greene/Noor

Greene was born in Brooklyn, New York, and died in Paris, France. He moved abroad, in part, because he felt more appreciated outside of the United States.

“There are only a handful of [American photo editors] that would give Stanley assignments,” says Berman. “Maybe his style was just too unique and innovative. Maybe because he spoke his mind.”

As a teenager, Greene was a member of the Black Panthers and an activist who spoke out against the war in Vietnam. 

It’s hard not to compare Greene to another African-American expat, James Baldwin, who moved to France to escape prejudice in 1948.

“And you know James Baldwin has this amazing quote, ‘Artists are here to disturb the peace,’ and I think that’s true for Stanley as well,” says Berman. “He would just exchange the word artist for journalist — ‘journalists are here to disturb the peace’ and upset your morning, to show you things you don't want to see, so you won't be so complacent and compliant. And that was Stanley. He was a really good journalist."

From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI