Andrew McConnell’s partnership with the International Rescue Committee to document the lives of urban refugees takes centre stage in an exhibition at St Pancras station (London) from tomorrow. I hope the project gets the attention it undoubtedly deserves.
From a personal point of view it’s good to see a project not defined by the name of the agency (wonderful though Panos are), or the name of the photographer, (a photographer’s name in this context is only a draw for a tiny fraction of people who tend to be more interested in aesthetics then issues anyway) but instead a seemingly singular vision, executed by McConnell with art and commitment.
I really like the approach taken in the film below, which is part of a series found on the website (more details at the end of this post).
The project has some similarities with MSF’s also excellent Urban Survivors project, that examined the lives of people living in slums.
I’m not sure why MSF gives so much space and importance to the photographer’s bios? People will spend a limited time on a website and if you want them to focus on the critical medical issues encountered in slums why give them the opportunity instead to read about how many World Press awards Stanley Greene has won?
Don’t let that put you off watching this powerful and dignified photofilm from the website by Andrea Bruce (Wonderful photographer. I don’t need a bio to work that out) that focuses on sexual violence in Guatamala.
I think it’s really important to be open and honest with people about why you want to photograph them and how those photos will be used.
The Urban Survivors project is a collaboration with NOOR photo agency. The photofilm shot in Kenya features a young woman talking about her little sister. The sister must have agreed to be photographed by Francesco Zizola for a photofilm, but she cannot have been told the real reason, that she is HIV+. That’s because according to the film the girl herself does not even know. The photofilm let’s us know that by the time the story was published she has been informed of her status.
I’m trying to imagine what justification there can be in following an orphan child and photographing them for a story about them being HIV+ when they haven’t been told? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
It’s something that for example BBC producer guidelines would prevent you from doing if you were working for them.
Working on a shoot, under pressure, with limited time, invariably leads to poor decision making. And I say this from experience. That’s why producer guidelines help. MSF have some decent ones relating to photography that were drawn up by their UK office.
Ethical questions aside (if you can ever put them aside?) it’s a very touching film and I would like to think the girl and her sister saw it and gave consent before it was published on the web.
Do check out both projects which deserve recognition.
About Hidden Lives
Over half the world’s refugees now live in large towns and cities where they are confronted by a unique set of challenges. The traditional image of life in tented, sprawling camps no longer tells the full refugee story. As urbanisation reshapes much of the world, refugees too are increasingly moving to large towns and cities.
In addition, urban areas are rapidly expanding, making them increasingly vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters. With this explosive growth come new types of risks, vulnerabilities and potential humanitarian crises.
The classic picture of a refugee in a camp is changing. Refugees and displaced people move to the city in the hope of finding a sense of community, safety and economic independence. However, in reality, what many actually find are harsh living conditions, lack of security and poverty.
Working with the International Rescue Committee and the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department ECHO, Panos Pictures photographer Andrew McConnell has spent many months documenting this new reality in eight cities across four continents. Through images, refugee testimonies, and video, the resulting body of work presents a unique insight into the lives of urban refugees today and challenges the commonly held stereotypes. From Somali refugees in Nairobi to Syrian refugees in north Jordan, and from Burmese refugees in Kuala Lumpur to Afghan refugees in New York, the story of where people flee when all is lost is changing…