When a renowned photojournalist gave cameras to a group of Syrian refugee children in Iraq and asked them to take pictures of their daily lives, he was astonished by what they came back with. Their photos now form part of a new exhibition in Paris.
On the banks of the Seine, amidst the throngs of tourists in the heart of the French capital, the faces of hundreds of refugees bear down from an imposing 370-metres long open-air fresco. It is part of a new exhibition called “A Dream of Humanity” by Iranian National Geographic photographer Reza Deghati, known as Reza, and Dubai photographer Ali Bin Thalith.
But alongside the professional photographs of refugees from across the world are images captured by those who are more usually the subjects of such works.
A doll playing the violin standing on the dirt, a family eating dinner by the fire, a blanket dragged through the mud on a rainy day –these are some of the photos taken by a group of Syrian children who, fleeing war, now live in the Kawergosk refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In images: Child refugees’ photos come to Paris
Children in the Kawergosk refugee camp – home to around 10,000 people – in Iraqi Kurdistan were asked to photograph their daily lives.
The photos are part of an exhibition running in Paris until October 15 and appear alongside works by renowned Iranian photojournalist Reza.
11-year-old Deliar Zeynal, described as “a little Salvador Dali” by Reza, took this photo of, in the photojournalist’s words, “a big pebble that resembles a chick pea” suspended in mid-air.
In this photo by Maryam Husien, a child’s doll playing the violin is positioned in front of the camp’s fence, highlighting its residents’ confinement.
Maya Rostam, aged 11, said she wanted to “learn photography to be able to tell the world what I feel and how I live”.
"What they show is unheard of – something no reporter can access,” Reza said of the children’s photos.
Reza launched the project in 2013 and opened a workshop at the camp to teach the children the basics of photography.
A total of 20 children aged between 12 and 17 took part in the project.
A mirror captures the grey UNHCR tents in this photo by Zeraf Rasoul.
Unlike the images of refugee life usually seen in the media – a mother desperately reaching out for a food handout or the sick and injured awaiting medical aid – these photos capture the everyday reality of life in a refugee camp with a kind of genuine intimacy that can be all too easy to miss.
‘Something no reporter can access’
"What they show is unheard of – something no reporter can access,” Reza told France 24. “When a journalist goes to report, they stay three days and capture images that only symbolise life in the camps. The children … show life from an insider’s perspective and some of them do it with genius.”
Reza began the project in December 2013 when he gave cameras to 20 children at the camp aged between 12 and 17. He was amazed by the results.
One photo by 11-year-old Deliar Zeynal, who Reza describes as “a little Salvador Dali”, captures a pebble that, in the word’s of the photojournalist “resembles a chick pea” suspended in mid-air. “I don’t know how he did it!” exclaims Reza, who admits with good humour to being “jealous” of the works of some of his young protégés.
Another image, taken by 12-year-old Maya Rostam during Iraq's harsh winter, captured “the essence of photojournalism”, according to Reza.
Maya was not one of the children originally selected to take part in the project, but for two days came to stand outside the tent where Reza ran a workshop to help the youngsters learn how to use the cameras. Finally, Reza gave her a camera of her own and told her to come back the next morning with some shots.
He was disappointed when she did not show up the next day at the appointed time. But Maya did finally appear and, without saying a word, handed Reza the camera. On the digital display, he saw a simple image of a pair of worn-out shoes covered in frost.
“My shoes were frozen, I had to wait before I could put them on,” Maya whispered.
“I had never been so touched by the symbolic power of an image," says Reza.
‘A universal language’
Reza hopes that the project has helped give the children the means to tell their story to the world through their own eyes.
"When I start a workshop, I used to say to my students that I'm not there to teach them photography but to give them a tool that will allow them to tell the world, in a universal language, their desires, their dreams, their lives,” he says.
Their touching images may also help highlight the plight of refugees at a time when the number of displaced peoples throughout the world is at a record high – 60 million according to UN figures.
“The world is a small village where we are all connected to each other,” says Reza. “In the West, we have rights but also responsibilities."
“A Dream of Humanity” runs at the Berges de Seine in Paris until October 2015. An exhibition is also being planned at the Kawergosk refugee camp.
This article was translated from the original in French.
Date created : 2015-08-03