The ethics of photographing refugees: what is our role?
Painful conversations. We've had many as a team here at Their Story is Our Story, and we'll keep having them.
The Number One topic has been: what we are doing; what is the added value of sticking a lens in the face of a traumatized child, a raped woman, a beaten man?
We come from extreme privilege. We live in safety. We have not been forced to flee to save our lives and those of our children. So, what dynamic might we be perpetuating? Is it a moral obligation to tell these stories when refugees themselves cannot? Or is it an amoral exploitation?
Because listen to me closely (lean into your screen, even, and listen to me whisper): sometimes it feels a bit indecent. Sometimes we wonder if going on location and bringing back these stories might, in the end, not close the gap between the powerful and the powerless but expand it, thus perpetuating the whole problem.
Because there is something I've feared, and it makes me sick at heart and crazy in brain: I have feared folks admiring the people behind the lens and not the ones in front of it.
Capturing stories is sacred, gutting, and demanding. But, it is the refugees whom we should admire and not us. Their Story is Our Story aims to create virtual proximity between refugees and you, our audience. We don't want you to think about us. We want you to think about them.
If we point a lens towards someone's face, let them tell their story, and bring that story to the world for the world to then get stuck in admiring the beauty of the image, craft of the film, or depth of the writing, then we have not humanized them. But, we have, in a small way, dehumanized ourselves.
What do you think?
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Share refugee stories online and in life amongst your friends and colleagues to help challenge misconceptions and misunderstandings about refugees to aid integration and acculturation in communities.
Donate to Their Story is Our Story (TSOS) so that we can continue sharing refugees' personal stories.
Donate to Hope Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh so that Hope Field Hospital for Women can continue to provide a safe haven for women and children inside the Refugee Camps.
Get involved with HumaniTerra by donating funds or volunteering to work on the ground to help rebuild the care system in a sustainable way.
Author: Melissa Dalton-Bradford
Image credit: Christophe Mortier
Over the last year we have developed close relationships built on mutual trust with many of the families we help. We know their names, their personal stories, and individual needs. We are fully aware that our donations are only a temporary band aid for a larger problem. A bag of groceries only goes so far, and they will be back the following Saturday for more. Sometimes, though, we can make a bigger impact in someone’s life.
Selfies with friends. Shurooq and Sasha enjoy shopping together.
Suzanne Kaufman’s colorful illustrations are a delightful pair to Alaxandra Penfold’s narrative stating “all are welcome here,” no matter one's appearance or background.