Refugees behind the camera


Choosing images for the upcoming JRS photography exhibition

Now in its 16th year, Refugee Week continues to provide a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the UK. Many of those images have been produced by refugees themselves through a photographic project organised by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Nine would-be photographers from JRS-UK took part in a training course and produced an exhibition of photos which was displayed at the Lumen Gallery in London this summer. It will be available this autumn with a speaker from JRS-UK for parishes around the country.

Among the photographers whose work is on show is ‘Muler’ who has since gone on to help lead the workshops. “It was my dream to be a documentary photographer, capturing the reality of the life and the world that we live in. And that is still is my dream,” he says. “When I started to go to JRS workshops with Fotosynthesis, my confidence was very low, I was hopeless. But in the people on that workshop I saw how I could say something about myself or about others through photography. The project was about daily life for asylum seekers in the UK and it connected with my own struggles.”

‘Muler’ says that working with Fotosynthesis Community, JRS-UK’s project partner, was a huge opportunity - to restore his confidence and to learn more.  Ingrid Guyon from Fotosynthesis agrees that it is very important that everyone on the course is engaged and it is not like a college class. “We do teach photography; but it’s more about the meaning of the pictures,” she says. ”When you say things to people, it is to really encourage them to believe that they can do it and that it doesn’t matter to us if they are refugees or not. We don’t treat them like that, but we understand their personal circumstances, so we always listen to what they have to say. We never ask them about their own stories, sometimes they want to tell us, but it’s up to them.”

Photographic assignments are important inasmuch as they can enable a group to bond, according to Ingrid. “We did the exercise about creating a photo-story about the JRS centre. We imagined publishing a story in a newspaper: what pictures we would need, what images we would take. Then the participants went off in pairs and worked as a team; you could see how they started to work together and help each other. What I really liked from that day was everyone was very dynamic and engaged.”

An exhibition provides a platform for refugees to show their work and express themselves. But, says Ingrid, it also enables them to be part of a group and be trusted. “What I would like from the exhibition is for people to understand that there are these people, not to label them, but to understand what they go through without judging. I’d like the public to value the quality of the work that they have done in such a short time. It could just to be the beginning of something. With more resources, we could do advanced photography. It will be very diverse and exciting because the group is diverse and bright and dynamic.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service exhibition at the Lumen Gallery, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H runs until 10 July 2014 (nearest tube and stations: Kings Cross and Euston). It will then be available for display this autumn in parishes, along with a speaker from JRS-UK. Contact Kate Monkhouse on 020 7488 7310.

This article appears in Summer 2014 edition of Jesuits and Friends magazine.  To receive your own copy in the post email