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The Maastricht Diplomat

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The Story Behind the Lens

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

How did we end up living our lives and not someone else’s? Why do we intend to take so many things in our lives for granted and hence start to forget about the fates and stories of other people around the world?

As a species that has a tendency to forget or disregard, we need dedicated storytellers to open our eyes and guide us to increase our awareness and mindfulness. One of the organizations which engage in this mission is The World Press Photo Foundation. The foundation gives great importance to freedom of expression, transparency, and purity of storytelling. Every year, many photojournalists participate in their contests and exhibitions to provide different perspectives on identities, emotions, ideologies, local issues, and global challenges. The World Press Photo Contest and its exhibitions commenced in 1955 by a group of Dutch photographers in order to display their work to aglobal audience. Throughout the following years, they established a significant platform for visual storytelling to convey and spread a message.

From 19 October until 11 November 2018, Maastricht hosted the World Press Photo Exhibition 2018 at the public library Centre Céramique. The categories of the exhibition were Contemporary Issues, Environment, General News, Long-Term Projects, Nature, People, Sports, and Spot News. The photojournalists were providing a new perspective through their lenses with the objective of raisingawareness and initiating change. The exhibition merged and embraced three values: World, Press, and Photography. As in previous years, the 2018 exhibition successfully showed the pleasures and conflicts created by and as apart of human nature. The photos were telling stories of love and hatred,bravery and covertness, harmony and chaos. After seeing the exhibition, it was relevant to ask many questions such as ‘Are we really a species whoseegocentricity disturbs the balance of nature?’.

Although all the photographs were intensely demonstrating different situations from all around the world, there was one picture I just couldn’t pass by without having a rush of tears into my eyes. The photographer of the piece, Kevin Frayer, a Canadian photojournalist based in Asia, described the moment he captured as:

“A young refugee cries as he climbs on a truck distributing aid near the Balukhali refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.”

As you pay more attention, you perceive the expression captured on the little boy’s face becoming avoice for the people who are suffering from inhumane events currently happening in our world. The photo is making its audience take a moment to stop, bepresent and confront the cruel reality. The teardrops on the face of the little boy are inviting you to see through his eyes and put yourself in his shoes.

The photo of this boy is somehow resembling the picture of the Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who is also known as “The Boy on the Beach”. The photograph ofthe Myanmarese boy was taken on September 20, 2017 in Bangladesh, and the one of the Syrian boy is taken in September 2015 in Turkey. They are both refugee boys who needed to flee to another country with the hope of living a decent life. They are both innocent beings who did not do anything that can reasonably justify their presence in conditions which fail to satisfy even the basic human rights. One is crying in Bangladesh, where he had to go in order to flee from the attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The other one’s body is laying on a beach in Turkey where the only reason for his presence there was the hope to arrive at Kos island to escape the war in Syria. Both photographs are very expressive as they are demonstrating a transparent and drastically real story. They remind you to think and reflect on the current struggles people are facing.

Photographs can help people to open their minds and hearts to theothers; guide them to think and remember. Where is Myanmar? Where is Syria?Where is Maastricht? Can the distance be a reason for the lack of empathy and awarenes sto change how things are? These photos are captured only two years apart from each other. The situations are very similar, only the locations and the initial backgrounds are slightly different. Remembering the great amount of attention that was raised during the refugee crisis in Syria after the publication of the picture of Alan Kurdi can lead one to realise that regardless of our previous attempts to emphasize and understand, similar situations are still existing somewhere else in the world. Thus, we need perpetual reminders to pull us outof our daily rush and create a space to be mindful of our surroundings.

Storytelling is needed to induce critical thinking and awareness; and photojournalism has a crucial importance to transparently provide visual expressions toillustrate the stories as accurately as possible. We may not be able to knowand control how our lives turned out to be the way they are now. Yet, what wecan do is to appreciate what we have and not forget about what is happening in the world around us while doing so.

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