Image: © Genna Naccache
Genna Naccache discusses the motivations behind the ‘Lost rights, found justice? Refugee and migrant rights’ photography competition and exhibition, one of the events in the School of Advanced Study’s 2017 Being Human festival of the humanities.
Prior to doing my human rights MA at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, I was a photojournalist mostly working on human rights assignments.
With this work, I have had the privilege to share people’s most incredible moments of happiness, suffering and despair. But what always seemed to prevail was their hope for a more dignified life in the uncertain future. Through the camera’s lens I directly connected to the essence of these communities I have been lucky enough to encounter.
Most photojournalists pursue stories that cannot be told with words alone – the tales about hopes and dreams. Above all, these stories are about people’s courage and what it takes for them to continue their human journey despite all the odds.
Photography is a universal language. Through a single photograph, be it of a face or a place, real situations can be grasped and portrayed in ways, and at times, beyond comprehension. While words can prompt the imagination, a photograph will speak directly to the viewer, immediately reflecting a ‘reality’.
When I first started studying photography I spent many years in awe of the fact that images could be captured through a mechanical process, and later appear on paper through a chemical process, which I experienced while in the darkroom as pure magic. Since then, more than thirty years ago, photography became my greatest passion.
It was while doing my post graduate diploma in photojournalism in 2002 that I came across the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the greatest photojournalists of the 20th century and the founder of photojournalism. For Cartier-Bresson, the camera was more than just a camera, it was ‘a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity’. For him, to ‘give a meaning’ to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the view finder.
In light of this, the master of photojournalism believed this attitude required focus and concentration, ‘a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry […], as well as ‘one’s head, one’s eyes and one’s heart in the same axis’. For him, this work as ‘a way of life’, through which he sought to capture the moment ‘in a single photograph’ as the essence of a given situation, which unfolded before his eyes. In his own words, he wanted ‘to preserve life in the act of living’.
According to Gordon Cooke, director of the Fine Art Society, Cartier-Bresson ‘turned photojournalism into an art form, and created many of the images by which his time is remembered’ today. I definitely agree that images are about remembrance of iconic moments, which are captured and frozen in time, described by Cartier-Bresson as the ‘decisive moment’, a moment so powerfully captured by the artist that it can speak for itself in this universal language.
I knew from the moment of conception, that ‘Lost rights, found justice? Refugee and migrant rights’ would add great value to existing initiatives relating to refugees. It is a call for young people’s attention, especially those graduates who are considering a career in the human rights field, and an invitation to reflect on the significance of the refugee crisis. Moreover, the project, which offers them an opportunity to engage with this topic and other urgent human rights issues, acts as a link between academia, human rights practice and the visual arts.
The ‘Lost rights, found justice? Refugee and migrant rights’ photography competition and exhibition aims to increase public understanding of the rights and situation of refugees, migrants and those seeking asylum or attempting to repossess their land. Taking place on 18 and 19 November during the Being Human festival, which runs from 17 to 25 November, this project seeks to express and expose a reality that needs our full attention. Hopefully, it will portray their journey towards justice, peace and dignity. After the ordeal of leaving their homeland behind, can they find what they seek?
Although the news is full of images and stories of the plight of refugees we still do not know enough. With this visual study of the refugee crisis, one of the most pressing social and political issues facing humanity today, we hope to portray the bigger picture through intimate stories. It will enable audiences to engage with the anthropological, historical and political aspects of this crisis as well as reflect on violence, discrimination and poverty facing refugees.
Both stages of ‘Lost rights, found justice? Refugee and migrant rights’ – the competition and exhibition – will be relevant to people’s everyday lives and interests. The impact of the refugee crisis, both in the context of wars in Syria and South Sudan and the ‘response’ of the Western governments, is significant and widespread.
Issues such as displacement or genocide of indigenous peoples worldwide are also included within this competition’s theme with a view to inviting a larger and more inclusive audience. We hope the Being Human festival-goers will take part in this unique event which, through empowering images that tell the stories of great courage and hope for a better life, seeks to honour refugees, migrants and all displaced people worldwide.