Refugee, Movement, and Immigration: Documentary Photo Stories

As I prepare to develop my own photostory from views and experiences of women learners in NGO training in Dadaab, I am looking for inspiration. I found two highly relevant photo stories that link to what I’m planning/hoping to do for my dissertation.

Dadaab Stories
Dadaab stories is a fascinating multimedia project conducted with the support of FilmAid that tells the story of everyday people in living in the Dadaab refugee camps. It was my orientation to the camps before I arrived in June 2014. Dadaab presents a unique and often tragic backdrop to the normalcy of displacement. Some refugees have lived in the camps since the early 1990s, some have been born into a refugee setting.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 11.45.03

Most of Dadaab Stories are videos where residents of Dadaab talk about their lives, ambitions, and pasts. The image above is a screenshot of the video profiles. I include it hear as an example of photographic story telling as each profile image includes a glimpse into the story that is about to be told and the person about to be profiled in the video linked to the photo. This is photo storytelling in the medium of the Internet (and reminds me of another great multimedia project, Kabul at Work).

I watched The Youth Chairlady’s story. Eblah describes her work with youth in the camps and her advocacy for girls education. Between her explanation of her work, the film shows photos and other footage that sheds light on other aspects of the camp, from computer labs to children caring for smaller children. Eblah speaks fast and describes her work in detail. While the background seems to move gently in the breeze of Ifo, Eblah’s pace and description reflect what I felt as a contradiction in my last visit, the urgency to get work done and the slow pace at which change happens.

These stories particularly use video, though photos are used on the site to establish a look into the narratives about to be told. In this way, photos are not the main narrative tool, but the voices of Dadaab Stories themselves. This seems highly appropriate in a setting where much of the story of Dadaab has been told by outsiders (such as myself) who stay for a short time and have the privilege to leave.

Africa to Australia

The photo narratives in Africa to Australia are a little more traditional photo documentary, though still a multimedia project. The story that the photographers, interviewees, and videographers tell is the story of refugees or immigrants from Africa to Australia. I’m hoping to capture both of these stories in my dissertation, but the experience of NGO training aiming to empower refugees in Dadaab and Toronto. Being a refugee means something different in both places. In fact, in Toronto it may be hard to find anyone who identifies as a Somali refugee as many in the Somali community, whether arriving as refugees or not, may not identify as a refugee.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 12.14.52In “Do I really belong here” the narrator describes his experience as a child and young adult integrating, and not integrating, into Australian society. He narrates his story while high contrast black and white photos shift on the screen. We see high rise apartment buildings, electrical wires, grey skies, and urban landscapes. We assume that the subject of many of the photos is the narrator, but it isn’t explained. The photo story doesn’t need to explain that as the narration and images capture a feeling of forced moving on.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 12.14.12

In these two examples, the photographers and videographers rely heavily on multimedia to tell the story. I think there could be more use of text and still, but I like the integration of film, photo, and narration. The use of personal narrative and the voices of the people themselves is also extremely important for me to consider in future work.


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