“We are there”: the Iranian photographer reframes the refugees | New Zealand


OWhen photographer Ehsan Hazaveh takes portraits of former refugees in New Zealand, he doesn’t click and go – in some cases the process can take 10 months, and the subject of the photograph has almost as many influence the final images and accompanying text as it does.

It is a deliberately collaborative affair, born out of frustration with how often people speak out on behalf of refugees and are “represented as silent actors and victims”.

  • Behrouz Boochani, Iran. “I was born and raised in the midst of an ongoing war. That’s all I remember from my childhood. Flashing images of soldiers leaving for the war front, jet fighters roaring in the sky and people fleeing villages. I know myself as a son of war and that is why I have dedicated myself to peace. Fighting for peace is my ongoing endless war’

The Wellington-based Iranian photographer’s latest series, Here We Are, captures people at home and at work and will be exhibited in the New Zealand capital ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.

“We have doctors, a Pulitzer Prize winner, cleaners, caregivers, teachers – a whole range of people,” says Hazaveh. “When you put all these people together, [viewers] start thinking about the wide range of abilities and abilities – each of them brings something valuable.

Margaret John Abee is a carer at Elderslea Care Center Village, Wellington.  His country of origin is South Sudan.  “I hold police papers in my hands.  My son just came out of a coma.  A few months ago, a gang member hit my son repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat.  Because we are black”.
  • Margaret John Abee, South Sudan. “I hold police papers in my hands. My son just came out of a coma. A few months ago, a gang member hit my son repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat. Because we are black’

Hazaveh speaks of the term “refugee” as an experience that happens to someone, rather than an identity, which can be used as a foothold for narrow and biased perspectives of those who are marked as such.

“The most important thing in my head that I’m fighting against [for]it is to detach the idea of ​​refugee from a person, because being a refugee is an event.

Hazaveh arrived in New Zealand from Tehran to study for his PhD in the Department of Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, in 2018. Prior to this, he had documented marginalized communities in rural Iran, winning several price for his work.

Yanet Beshah was a model and fashion student in Ethiopia, but now works as a nail technician at a beauty salon in Wellington.
  • Yanet Beshah, Ethiopia. “I was a model and studied fashion design in Ethiopia. Now I work as a nail technician in a beauty salon in Wellington. Before that, I worked in the city of Cambridge where my daughter went to school. One day her teacher asked my daughter to tell others how poor she was before coming to New Zealand, a traumatic experience for my daughter which embarrassed her in front of the other students. Now I have to do my best to make her believe she’s no different. We have each other. She comes to my workplace after school and reads and draws until I finish the job. To help her regain her self-confidence, I try to be the mother she deserves, a role model. One day I will become a fashion designer that I love and I will have a degree in ‘

An experience following the publication of what would become a viral series capture a remote village in Iran forced Hazaveh to rethink how documentary photography could become more ethical.

“My intention was to bring attention and funding to this village, but the result was different from what I expected. In the professional photography community, the discussion did not go beyond aesthetic aspects of the story,” he said.

The media then used the photos and reframed the story to suit their own agenda, including a news agency that used the images to portray Iranians negatively, he said.

Massoud Hossaini, from Afghanistan, human rights activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist.
  • Massoud Hossaini, Afghanistan. “I fled Kabul after the Taliban terrorist group took over. The dramatic fall of Kabul was a disaster for all Afghans trying to establish democracy, freedom and justice in their war-torn state. Now I’m in Wellington waiting to see what the future holds. I often sit outside my room and watch the news from my homeland’

“As a result, I decided to try to make a fuller representation of people and leave less room for distorted projections.”

In her four years in New Zealand, Hazaveh has taken many photos of people who have been refugees at some point in their lives and are now carving out a place for themselves in their new country. It is the part of their stories that Hazaveh is determined to capture.

“A huge amount of footage on Google search only shows one side of that story and I’m trying to create a bigger picture of someone’s experience,” he says.

Sounvilay Phonevilay (left), works at the Whittakers chocolate factory, and Soulivone Phonevilay (right), is a senior adviser to the New Zealand Ministry of Health.
  • Sounvilay & Soulivone Phonevilay, Laos. “My mum and I share a love for cooking. It’s our happy place; the converted garage and second kitchen that is the heart of our home in Wellington. Here, traditional Lao cuisine is done from A to Z; prove that you can get the person out of the place [Laos]but you can’t take the place [Laos] out of person

Instead, he asks what someone’s life is like now. “That’s what’s missing, there’s a huge void in people’s minds about these people.

“It’s really important to me to give people other lenses, other perspectives, to have it in their pockets.”

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