Many thanks to @vice for having me at last weeks HEFAT (hostile environment emergency first aid) course. The medical refresher was perfect, the free tourniquet a nice touch and the simulations a regular challenge to both stay alive and take pictures worth a damn.
Note: these are simulations. None of the guns or scenarios are real, folks. But, the importance of such training is absolutely real. HEFAT courses are offered by a host of different organizations and I encourage journalists and others alike to consider such training. Even the most basic of first aid saves lives.
On World Refugee Day we are asked to take a moment and consider the near 70 million persons displaced worldwide.
By definition, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their home, often, but not always due to conflict. But conflict is just a sanitized and contained word for the reality of those fleeing warfare and persecution. Refugees leave the place they call home not because they want to but because, like each of us, they desire security and a chance to build a life for themselves and family.
Over the course of the past several years I’ve had the privilege of working within refugee and IDP (internally displaced) communities. I never really anticipated human displacement to become an ongoing focus but I find it’s something once experienced impossible to turn away from. Perhaps it is the pure humanity of it all. We all want to be safe. Many of us have never been in a situation where that is in question though. I think being on the ground, in front of people, fleeing the unimaginable, makes something once abstract, as real as you and I.
As a photographer the hope is always that somehow images might be able to impart even a semblance of this feeling on you, cause you to pause and reconsider what you believe and perhaps even get involved.
“In Somalia there are people shooting and killing each other. Sometimes people are raping very young girls. This happened to my sister and they took her. We keep looking for her but I never saw her again. This happened to other girls and that’s why we had to escape.”
“We feel like in Utica these things can’t happen to us. I want to study science and become a doctor. That way I can go back and help my people.”
These are the words of Imran, one of three young Somali I met while working with an @ngphotocamp . Fourteen years old, Imran arrived in the US just a few ago and now calls Utica, New York.
On September 17, 2018 the Trump administration announced the ceiling for refugee admission would be 30,000 for FY 2019, the lowest number since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, an embarrassment and an undermining of my country’s long-standing proponent of refugee protection.
The Yazidi young women’s futbol team practices once a week at a turf field several miles from the Bajad Kandala displacement camp. Though collectively they can only afford the $20 needed for truck rental and fuel to practice a few times a month that hasn’t stopped them from embracing and excelling at the sport. In August 2014 these young women and thousands of others fled Sinjar when ISIS attacked the city. For the past 4.5 years they’ve all called a tent within the camp “home” — if and/or when they’ll ever be able to leave remains a question mark. I use the words “resilience” and “hope” with reservation as they’re often cliche, but here they’re the two I find most fitting.
The media has done a pretty good job of ensuring many have but one kind of image that comes to mind when we hear the word “refugee” — though the realities of injustice and hardship should never be diminished it’s important that we, as photographers and journalists, preserve the dignity of these individuals by doing our best to communicate a more complete story. These young women are but one example of the other half of the story.
James Truslow Adams wrote, the “American Dream” was to be “a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
This land called America, for which we are fortunate to call our home, was intended to be the incubator of this dream; it was to be a brilliant beacon to a world so often disoriented in darkness.
How bright does this beacon shine today?
I met Angelique last year on the first evening I spent in the Northside neighborhood of Syracuse. It was my first month in a new city and I was curious to learn more about the city’s significant refugee population.
Nearly a year later I’m continuing to return to this neighborhood and others throughout the city with what has become a focus on the vast and varied experiences of women and girls who’ve been resettled to Syracuse.
Intimidated by its scope I’ve been challenged this semester as I attempt to navigate these communities and connect with those willing to share with me. It’s something I don’t know one could ever call “complete” but I’m grateful to those I’ve met and what I’ve learned through their experiences.
Isn't she beautiful? 🤗📷
As someone who grew up in the age of digital I am looking forward to taking a step back and learning to appreciate this camera and the slower, more intimate process it necessitates. (many thanks to Prof Heisler for his continued guidance)
What a weekend ... a millions thanks to the Northern Short Course in Photojournalism (especially those who work year-round to make it happen and to the many volunteers) for bringing together such an incredible community of people. It was wonderful to see old friends, make new friends and to also have work that has been and continues to be close to my heart recognized.
Until NSC 2020 ... may be all have a safe and productive year.
2018 passed in one long, beautiful blink of the eye.
It's been a while since I last wrote and I’m keen to share a few highlights with you.
I spent the month of March in Vietnam, the first half with a group of American Veterans, documenting their first return trip to the country since serving in the war and the latter researching the generational legacy of conflict as seen through the ongoing effects of dioxin (Agent Orange). Nearly six decades after the launch of Operation Ranch Hand, second- and third-generation Vietnamese are still suffering the debilitating effects of Agent Orange, and the births of an afflicted fourth generation are being reported.
Some of that work—The Generational Legacy of War: the story of Phuong Nguyen—was recognized by CPOY (College Photographer of the Year)
In July I packed up my life in Pittsburgh and moved to Syracuse, New York. Graduate school was never part of the plan, but I was fortunate to receive the first Ed Kashi Fellowship to attend Syracuse University, where I'm currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Visual Communications.
Having wrapped up my first semester, I look back on those first six months as some of the most challenging yet rewarding of my life. We are not always granted peace with our decisions but being at Newhouse has felt “right” since day one. I've had the opportunity to push pause on the often hectic freelance life and immerse myself in all things visual, amidst a talented and dedicated community of similarly-minded people. Self-taught, I’ve never had this type of immersion and could not be more grateful as I continue to learn about myself and the craft.
I met Kaylee less than a month after moving to Syracuse, and spent weeks taking pictures of what I thought was a story of a little girl’s battle with childhood cancer. Several months later it became evident this was not "just" the story of a child with cancer but rather one of family dynamics as they navigate Kaylee's diagnosis, treatment and life once declared cancer-free.
Spending time with Kaylee has taught me the value of long-term work, and has made clear that time and establishing trust are perhaps the most important elements in creating intimate images. The more time I spend with Kaylee and her family the more I understand the importance of both.
The Atlantic published my images from Mosul in a piece detailing the civilian death toll in the fight against ISIS.
I returned to Pittsburgh for an exhibition showcasing work done in partnership with Neighborworks and was recently invited to participate in a group exhibition on the documentation of forced migration.
Airwars, a non-profit transparency project and authority on the effects of conflict violence on civilian communities utilized numerous images to illustrate their ongoing work in Iraq.
I spent my winter break working and living in Bajed Kandala, a Yazidi displacement camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, a few miles from the Syrian border. I went with a desire to better understand—who was this persecuted ethno-religious minority beyond the often simplistic narrative of a community largely reduced to their victimhood?
Beginning with an attack by the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, on August 3, 2014 the most recent data asserts that nearly 9,900 members of the ethnic and religious minority were killed or captured in a matter of days. Today, more than four years later, nearly 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced; of that, approximately 9,000 call the Bajed Kandala camps home. I went as a volunteer with Joint Help for Kurdistan, an NGO with an all-volunteer staff comprised of displaced Yazidis that live within the camp. The JHK team serves their community during the day and returns to their tents at night.
I left Syracuse on Christmas Eve, bound for Kurdistan, uncertain of what the coming weeks might bring. In just shy of a month Iraq shared with me much of its pain as well as its beauty. I was welcomed into the lives of many and witnessed examples of hope and resilience by those who’ve suffered immensely. Perhaps it is this contrast, as well as a lack of nuanced understanding of the country, that continues to draw me back. It’s my third consecutive year spending time in this part of Iraq, and if stars and finances align, I'll return again this summer.
Back in Syracuse, I’ve started to go through several thousand frames and struggle for the right words, should they even exist. A density and intensity of experience is had when in such a place and it’s a bit like whiplash when one returns to a society of comfort, excess and relative disconnect. When that feeling subsides though what remains is profound perspective and renewed appreciation for the life and opportunity I have -- it’s a privilege to be a witness and it's more important than ever we continue to tell the stories that matter, whether they be in Iraq or our own backyards.
For those interested in more recent work and following along, please find me on Instagram & Twitter.
Wishing everyone a peaceful 2019—may this be our collective best year yet.
12.29.2019 in Iraqi Kurdistan
Nahida, age 9.
Displaced from Sinjar, Iraq, when she was five years old Nahida has spent the past four years living in a tent in the Bajad Kandala displacement camp in Iraqi Kurdistan with her mother and five siblings. Her father stayed behind in 2014 to fight ISIS and they have not heard from him since. The family hopes to be resettled to another country, but the process for resettlement is long and arduous and they have not received word of progress with their application in nearly a year. One day Nahida wishes to be a school teacher.
Ferman, which translates to “genocide” and his sister Madrid play while I interview their mother, Nadine, in the family’s tent within the Bajed Kandala Yazidi Displacement Camp near the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Nadine was pregnant when she and thousands of others were forced to flee their home Sinjar when ISIS attacked the city with the goal of eradicating the Yazidi population. Born shortly after arriving to the displacement camp in August 2014 Nadine named her son to commemorate the ongoing persecution of the Yazidi population.
A somewhat obligatory image of a smiling child in a displacement camp ... I couldn’t help but smile when I saw her myself. But I was also struck by her shirt and in that moment saddened as I wondered how she ended up wearing it and whether she might ever leave the Bajad Kandala camp, let along have the opportunity to see and “love New York.”
Sitting in New York now, as it’d be, I’ve started to go through the several thousand frames from the past few weeks and struggle for the right words, should they even exist. A density and intensity of experience is had when in such a place and it’s a bit of whiplash when one returns to a society of comfort, excess and relative disconnect.
I left Syracuse on Christmas Eve, bound for Kurdistan and uncertain of what the next several weeks might bring.
It's just past 5AM in Erbil and as I pack up the last of my things I look back on the past few weeks and it is bittersweet, only because I am just not quite ready to leave.
In just 3 short weeks I had the privilege of being allowed into the lives of countless people, was witness to a traditional Yazidi wedding, was inspired by the 14 and 15 year-old young women in my photography course and humbled daily by the grace and generosity of all those I met.
As is always the case, I’ve learned and gained more than I might ever hope to give. Thank you to everyone who touched my life, especially the JHK org team. .
I look forward to sharing more about this community and the individuals I met.
*All photo credits go to the seven young women in my photo course and to Salih, the selfie-master*
The road that dissects Bajad Kandala 1 and Bajad Kandala camp 2 is known as the deadliest in Kurdistan. 24 hours a day and throughout each day of the week tanker trucks can be seen plowing down the narrow two-lanes highway that connects Kurdistan with Turkey. The trucks are near always carrying oil from one locale to the other. Over the course of the past four years that the camp has been open over 20 persons have died while trying to cross between the two camps.
Dusk falls over the Bajad Kandala displacement camp. 01.06.19
I’ve several days yet remaining in Kurdistan but the reality of me leaving to return to my comfortable life is starting to crystallize. Those who’ve allowed me into their lives—many of whom I now call friends— will remain here, their futures but a question mark. I’m buoyed by the strength and the resilience I’ve witnessed while simultaneously being saddened and infuriated by the injustice.
A little bit of light, shadow and moment in the Shariya Yazidi displacement camp outside of Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan.
When the #yezidi community from Sinjar was forced to flee from ISIS in August 2014 the education of thousands of children and young adults was disrupted. Today, in the Bajad Kandala camp in Iraqi Kurdistan some NGOs and a host of Kurdish volunteer teachers are working to aid in education efforts. Though classes are only for a few hours several days a week if one is to walk through the camp they will see children and young adults studying in their spare moments, many working to learn English, all doing so in the hope of finding a good job.