No matter how much I believe in the importance of telling stories like this, it never changes the fact that when you raise a camera to someone’s pain you feel like a predator. As if you’re hunting sorrow, and hoping the ends will somehow justify the means. This wasn’t new to me when I went to Lebanon; I was familiar with the personal emotional cost of making this kind of work, as I’ve been doing versions of it for years. But there were nevertheless so many nights when I’d put out my last cigarette only to collapse on the floor crying, in part because of what I saw and in part because I questioned whether I was helping, or just another monster tilling the fields of endless sadness.
“…in witnessing the slow evolution of a massive human tragedy, I began to find huge questions that begged to be asked, even if they are still ones to which I personally don’t know the answers.”
I chose Lebanon because I was curious about the points of shared experience. What did two different refugee populations in one small country show about what long-term displacement looks like? I wanted to create a body of work that raised awareness about the localized tragedy of the country, but also spoke to the universal human element in all stories of long-term displacement.
Right now on Earth, it is estimated that there are 68 million displaced people. Most of them must survive that way for a minimum of 25 years before having any chance to return to their former homes, and a great many will never be able to go back. And while 68 million seems unfathomable, between war, climate change, and the growing possibility of widespread famine, some experts estimate that in the next 50 years global population displacement could grow more than four times the amount we see today.
“…on Earth, it is estimated that there are 68 million displaced people.”
When I walked off the plane in Lebanon I was in way over my head, and struggling on a personal level to keep it together. However, in being there, in witnessing the slow evolution of a massive human tragedy, I began to find huge questions that begged to be asked, even if they are still ones to which I don’t know the answers.
The stories of refugees in Lebanon are the stories of the forgotten. They are the stories of humans whose wars aren’t on the front page anymore, so now their suffering is gone from our collective memory though the people still remain. They still suffer as we turn our eyes to the next big spectacle, and allow the din of pundits arguing to drown out the quiet suffering taking place. In countries all over the world we see violence and xenophobia escalating as we allow the fear of otherness to remove our ability to see humanity in those who suffer most.
“ …are we fated to continue ignoring the tragedy of those most vulnerable, and thus collectively accept the decay of all of our humanity?”
I believe my photos show suffering, but what I fear they’ve failed to show is the grace of the people I encountered. Families in tents trying to offer me food when they had nothing, because they were so happy someone still wanted to hear their stories. The texture of a hand rested upon mine while a mother talked of her fears about a futureless life for her child. The smell of waste wafting through a camp as children laughed and ran, all while derelict structures slowly collapsed around them.
In the end, when I left Lebanon and over the many months it has taken me to sift through what I saw and shot, I was ultimately left with one lingering question: When isolationism and malicious apathy prevail, is it possible to shatter the veneer of otherness, or are we fated to continue ignoring the tragedy of those most vulnerable, and thus collectively accept the decay of all of our humanity?