Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – 18 June 2021

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – Robin Hammond and Witness Change’s latest and most ambitious project, 1000 Dreams launches this Sunday 20 June on World Refugee Day.


1000 Dreams – Witness Change

In 2015 award-winning photojournalist, and activist, Robin Hammond launched Witness Change a non-profit organisation whose mission is to give voice to those who are marginalised by inviting people to tell their own stories.

In what is the most ambitious project to date, Hammond and the small, ridiculously hardworking Witness Change team are getting ready to launch 1000 Dreams – About Refugees By Refugees. This is a photo-storytelling project in which refugees tell their stories to other refugees who have been trained by Witness Change in visual storytelling. 

Over the past two years Hammond has trained and mentored 40 refugee storytellers. Workshops have been held in person in Athens and Lesvos, Greece, and in London (pre-Covid-19). Others have been conducted online. These storytellers have been tasked with producing 1000 portraits and stories. Watch this video which features some of the behind-the-scenes moments. Warning: have tissues handy.

The idea behind 1000 Dreams is straightforward: refugees are taking back control of the narratives and in the process humanising understanding of what it is to be a refugee. 

Hammond says, “it is stories that impact attitudes which go on to impact policies and if we get the stories wrong the attitudes and policies will be wrong. It is only through sharing these stories that we can change the narrative.” 

With funding from Open Society Foundations, and the support of volunteers around the world, 1000 Dreams is set to go live on Sunday in celebration of World Refugee Day. 

Here are two stories to give you an insight into what to expect:

This is Fay Khodaperest. Photo and interview by Ali Jehad
I used to dream of my dad coming back or that everything would go back to normal. But it just never did,” says Fay (pseud, 25), recalling her father leaving her and her siblings behind in Iran. A year later, five year-old Fay joined him in Sweden. But things were never ‘normal’ again. “I was a lonely kid from the beginning, and I was bullied in school… I was different. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me.” She often feels guilt and pressure to meet expectations. “I feel like I should be grateful. I can’t complain about anything. I feel like I am in debt and I need to pay that debt by doing whatever, fulfilling my parent’s dreams, the dreams they couldn’t fulfil.” Fay wants her dreams to be her own. “My goals and dreams are to be more comfortable in my own skin.” And she wants to follow her dreams without worrying “about my economical status and about what my parents might think.” She adds, “I have proven myself that I am capable of so much more than I thought.” Read the full interview here.

This is Nidal Bulbul. Photo and interview by Esra Gültekin
I’m the son of this earth and I want to be able to travel wherever I want without being questioned. And I wish this for everyone,” dreams Nidal Bulbul (35), a Palestinian journalist living in Germany. Nidal lost his leg while on assignment, and he then left Palestine because life would be “very miserable if I go back with my disability to a situation where it’s very difficult to sort of overcome your disability and rehabilitation because of the shortages and the blockade that in Gaza.” Nidal doesn’t like to be defined by his experiences as an amputee, a refugee, or by the violence he saw as a journalist: “I learned to overcome everything that I’ve been through.” He strives to be grateful for what he has: “Yeah, of course you lost a leg, but life gives you so many other things for it that you have to be thankful of. So I think it’s just very important to… every human being to be satisfied and happy with the person he is or she is today.” Read the full interview here.

“As part of the project all storytellers received photography equipment. The storytellers are the primary beneficiaries of sales to publications, print sales and exhibition fees. This process ensures the storytellers are supported through their participation in the campaign and have the ability to author the stories of their communities – stories about refugees, by refugees” (from the 1000 Dreams website).

This is a project close to my heart. I’ve written previously about the issue of representation and the tendency for the media to use the word ‘refugee’ as a generic label that paints refugees as victims or threats, stripping individuals of their identity and their dreams. 

Last year I wrote an essay: The Visual Journalist as a Social Entrepreneur. Hammond is the embodiment of this concept and features in the essay.

You can support this important work by joining the Refugee Storytelling Community on Facebook and becoming an ambassador by sharing these stories. Together we can change the conversation. 

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