Celebrity photographer Rankin has swapped the fashion world for an African war zone to take pictures for an exhibition he hopes will re-awaken people to the horrors of conflict.

Rankin, whose full name is John Rankin Waddell, travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to take the photographs, which show residents of the war-torn Mugunga camp, home to 17,000 people displaced by Congo's violence.

He says his images go "beyond the statistics and show the human side of the conflict", claiming people have become "anaesthetised to traditional photographs of conflict victims".

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Since 1998, Congo has lost 5.4 million people to conflict, disease and hunger. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and thousands of women raped.

Rankin, who has pictured the Queen, Tony Blair, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, said: "I think we have become anaesthetised to traditional photographs of conflict victims.

"Despite the suffering that they have been through the people of Congo are just like us and need our help. I hope the exhibition will wake people up to what is going on. The level of suffering there is horrendous.

"I felt energised by the strength of the people and their will to survive and to make their lives better. Yet they all have these really awful stories. They have all seen their brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, daughters or sons killed in front of them, and you can see it in their eyes. It was humbling stuff."

His photographs are for an Oxfam exhibition and will go on display on 7ft stands outside the National Theatre in London's South Bank Centre.

The exhibition, entitled Cheka Kidogo, meaning "laugh a little" in Swahili, aims to raise awareness of the plight of the Congolese people and opens tomorrow. The subjects are shown against Rankin's trademark white backdrop rather than in their everyday surroundings.

Over a million people have been displaced in the eastern part of Congo, with over 500,000 people having fled from violence in the last year alone. This year more than 1,100 women a month have reported being raped, although the real figure is likely to be much higher, Oxfam said.