James Mollison is a photographer working out of Venice, Italy. He was born in Kenya, which makes him immediately “simpatico”, just because of that.
AND, he’s also done some really great work. And in this video, showcasing some of his projects, he touches on his approach to photography and how he sees the single image versus a larger body of work. Group and individual identity and how his thoughts on the subject has informed the perspectives of his projects. This all is really fascinating in itself.
In this video James heads to Kenya where he sets out to photograph the huge variety of people at the Dadaab Refuge Camp in Kenya, the world’s oldest and largest refugee camp that sits in the desert on the Kenya-Somalia border. It’s an incredible place in many ways.
I really like James’ photographic approach of just getting there and spending time and really engaging with people. Interviewing, seeing, talking and taking photographs. In fact the first thing he does is to get an overview of the place, from above. To feel and sense the scale and enormity of this location, to better understand the different layers of narrative that are hidden here. Refugees that have just arrived, refugees that have been here for years, and people that have been born here and are somewhere non-citizens and non-refugees.
It’s an approach that unlocks the story, an approach that rightly focuses on the people first.
James who had been to similar situations and places like refugee camps before says about this work: “I’m always slightly uncomfortable about these situations, because I think that there can be this very negative view of Africa. I mean often, it’s the image that we see. We see the famines, we see the wars, we see the bad things that are happening. I think there is this paradox, between, on the one level promoting this idea, that journalists do of Africa in a place of need, and charities do it of course, as well. And being part of that. And then there is this other thing, where actually Africa isn’t reported on enough. But I do think it’s important to do show different things that are happening, because, I think I see it more as like, you’re throwing into the debate.”
His words follow a sentiment that really resonates with me. It is a privilege to be in places and meet people that have gone through these various hardships and difficulties in life, and to be able to take their photograph, to tell their story and in some ways, make their voice heard a little louder perhaps. This is a huge privilege. And with it comes responsibility. As humanitarian and documentary photographers, we need to be sensible to the various discourses that exist in the media, in the sector that we work for. And we need to find ways – in each situation – to not be careful to not overlay foreign ideas and agendas onto the reality of a situation or a person’s story.
I think it’s then that James’ summary at the end of this video really bears weight: “Photography is this key into experiencing the world”.
What do you think when you see this footage? Do you think there is a place for humanitarian photography versus traditional photojournalism? Join the conversation! Leave a comment.
PS: Some Bonus footage on another one of James’s projects.
>> Sidetrack: In the video James touches on why he prints photography books rather that just have everything digital. Here’s also a recent Zack Arias’ post on the art and work involved in printing portfolio books. FYI.<<