‘One Day Changes’: The art of photojournalism

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In collaboration with Skimstone Arts, Iraqi photojournalists Ako Ismail and Shahor Omar stunned with their new visual photography exhibition, providing an insight into the lived experience of adults and young people in refugee camps in Iraq and Syria. Their images, demonstrating the true horrors of these camps, and the devastation caused by having your life turned upside down overnight, are striking, emotive and thought-provoking. 

On 11th May, I had the privilege of attending the unveiling of the new exhibit’s installation, at St John’s College. The university, in fact, has been involved in this project from the start — Durham University Art Collection supported both Skimstone Arts (who have coordinated and organised the exhibition) and the college to realise the exhibition. The event was a true testament to the power of the image. The audience left with real food for thought, and a newfound appreciation of events often unreported or misrepresented by the British, and indeed global, media. 

The event was a true testament to the power of the image

The fundamental message, that ‘One Day Changes’ lives, is clearly disseminated through the images of the inside of refugee camps. The photographs are deeply personal, yet simultaneously — and scarily — reflective of a wider reality that affects many. More specifically, the collection portrays Ismail and Omar’s sensitivity to childhood. Indeed, the panel at the unveiling agreed children are often ‘the first victims’ of such traumatic events.

It is unsurprising, and highly fitting, that the younger generation feature prominently in the collection. The composition and emotion behind each photograph provide a voice to the refugee population in these camps. As images, they speak far louder than words ever could. 

The composition and emotion behind each photograph provide a voice to the refugee population in these camps

The same applies to their short film, The Smell of Apples, which was screened at the event. Elucidating the story of Azad, a survivor of the Halabja chemical attack in 1988 during the final days of the Iran-Iraq War, the film depicts the consequences of the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history. The symbolic smell of apples, which was the scent of the chemicals themselves, haunts the memory of survivors and their families. Highly pertinent and harrowing, the film uncovers a hidden, disturbing story. 

Praise must be given to Ako and Shahor themselves, who created the film and the photographs. Particularly evocative was their assertion that they are, first and foremost, journalists, not refugees. Having both moved to the UK under ‘refugee’ status, the pair find themselves thrown under this umbrella category, negating their personal experiences and professional capacities. By producing this work, they strive towards expressing their own lived experiences, and aim to shed light upon dark realities often concealed from our view. 

Shed light upon dark realities often concealed from our view

The event, the exhibition and, most importantly, the stories shared, were hugely inspiring and important. I was left pondering how, in a world obsessed with rapid gratification and bite-sized information, we often forget the importance of seeking the truth that exists further afield, and the absolute need to seek out the darker realities that are occurring in the world around us, to better understand our fellow human beings.

Image credit: Ako Ismail licensed by Skimstone Arts

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