Malin Fezehai is an Eritrean-Swedish photographer and filmmaker based in New York. She focuses on issues of migration and displacement. She is a 2015 World Press Photo recipient and regularly collaborates with TIME, New Yorker, New York Times Magazine and the Malala Fund, among others.
Caterina Clerici: How did you get into photography?
Malin Fezehai: I took photography in high school. I wasn’t great in school because I am dyslexic, and when I took this photo class I remember getting really good grades without making much of an effort, so I felt it was the first thing that I was good at. After that I became obsessed with it.
CC: How did you transition into the big themes you cover — displacement, movement of people, mostly forced migration? How did your own background and personal history influence that?
MF: I grew up with a mixed background. My mother is Swedish and my father is Eritrean and in my family we are five kids with four different fathers. I have a Swedish brother and a Moroccan brother, an Egyptian brother and one full brother. So I grew up with a lot of different cultures. Also, I grew up in the suburbs in an immigrant neighborhood in Stockholm. Never having attached to one cultural identity, as a photographer I gravitate toward displaced communities. The feeling of otherness is something I feel very connected to. We live in an age where people move around a lot — I do it because I choose to do it, but for a lot of people it’s not a choice. They are forced to because of circumstances. What I find interesting is the effect being displaced has on families and communities.
CC: One of your long terms projects was about African refugees in Israel. How did you find that story and what drew you to it?
MF: I am half-Eritrean, and a lot of the refugees in Israel are from Eritrea, and the second group is Sudanese. I’ve been watching the exodus of Eritreans escaping from Eritrea and I’ve been interested in Israel for a very long time, but for my first trip I wanted to cover something other than the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I thought this story was a very interesting third rail in the debate about the complications of Israel’s desire to maintain its demographics. I wanted to see for myself what it was like seeking refugee status in country that was in large part founded by refugees, and at the same time, it’s a status they have only given out to a handful of people who are not Jewish.
CC: You mentioned the process of ‘othering’ and how you relate to being the odd one out. Do you think there is a need to rethink the way — even in photography — that the refugee is presented as ‘the other’?
MF: It’s really complicated because you have many different groups of people fleeing for different reasons. Syrians because of the war, then you have Eritreans because of government persecution, and many other groups that get lumped together and called “economic migrants.” I think it’s challenging for the media to depict this issue in a nuanced way, and in the long run I don’t think migration is really going to come to a halt. I think it’s going to increase, and how photography is used is really important because it becomes a bridge to understanding “the other.”
In regard to the division between refugees and economic migrants — today it’s as if it wasn’t enough to just want to make a better life for yourself, you have to be running from war to justify migrating. It’s disheartening because people just want the same things you want out of life, and whatever your opinions might be on migration, I would hope that we could agree that people shouldn’t be demonized for that.
CC: Have you ever thought of covering that end of the journey — from Europe, or maybe even from Sweden? Given your experience but also your background, you would definitely have more insight than many others on a story about resettlement and all the adjustments that requires.
MF: That’s been eating on me a lot, actually. I’ve been working a lot in refugee camps and then you go over to Europe and you just see the disconnect, people don’t understand the reality on the ground. I was in Lebanon right before the refugee crisis was considered a crisis in Europe, and I myself didn’t understand the full scope of the problem.
I have thought about covering the refugee crisis and there are some things I’m researching, but I’m still trying to figure out the angle that I want to focus on. I tend to choose stories that nobody is covering, and if I were to cover a story that’s in the news a lot, I would want to find a specific angle.
My mother right now is taking care of six Afghan boys that came to Sweden unaccompanied. So it’s something that is very present in my life because when I go to see my mother, there are refugees in my own home. It’s a reality we are going to have to deal with.
I was thinking about that when I was growing up too, because [in our neighborhood] we had refugees from Kurdistan, from Iran. You look at the news and then a few years pass and you start seeing people from these places showing up in your neighborhood and living where you live. So it’s in everybody’s interests to be concerned and informed with current events.
People are alarmed about the influx of refugees to Europe but they should think about the fact that, within Africa and the Middle East, you’re dealing with migration on a much larger scale. You can look at Ethiopia, Kenya, or Lebanon, countries that have been hosting millions of refugees. So it’s important to keep perspective because poorer countries have been dealing with a mass influx of refugees for years.
CC: Your Eritrean wedding photo was the first Instagram photo to win the World Press Photo. What was it about it that made it a special picture for you?
MF: For me, it’s just a really nice moment. Here you have these refugees and they’re celebrating a marriage. When people think about refugees they think about people living in a camp or who are destitute. They certainly have their issues, but they do their best to live their lives with dignity. They made themselves look very beautiful that day, and I also like the composition of them on the stairs. These people are displaced, but in that moment they’re trying to reclaim their dignity and live their lives and celebrate a marriage, like anybody in the world would want to do.
CC: What is your thought process for Instagram? How have you, over time, realized what works and what doesn’t and how do you integrate it with your own work?
MF: I never really put a whole story I’m working on up on Instagram, I mostly put snippets of my travels. Instagram is a home to pictures that otherwise wouldn’t have a home. Every day I upload pictures that nobody would want to publish, but they are still pictures I like. It’s interesting because with Instagram you become your own outlet and your own editor.
CC: You have a huge following. What does that do to your daily life? Do you respond to the comments, are you overwhelmed? Now you have a direct connection to the audience that you didn’t used to have.
MF: I try to not reflect too much upon it. Sometimes when people feel like they’re being seen, they start changing and becoming a little more self-conscious. I want to shy away from that, because I think sometimes people do their most authentic work when they’re not thinking too much about it.
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Fall 2016 Vol. 2/No. 2
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Copy Editor: John Rak
Intern: Kelly Kollias
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
Management Sciences for Health
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Marketing Web Director
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Lori Grinker, New York, NY
Independent Photographer and Educator
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Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
Jeffrey D. Smith, New York NY
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Consultant and educator
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Photographer and Educator
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ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibited on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by David Verberckt. From The Stateless Rohingya. Children playing in makeshift refugee camp for Rohingya from Myanmar. Shamplapur, Bangladesh, June 2015.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine.
Caterina Clerici is an independent multimedia journalist based in New York. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she’s currently a freelance photo editor at TIME and the Special Issue Editor at SDN. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, La Stampa, Libération, Die Zeit, among others. You can follow her at @caterinaclerici.
Susan S. Bank
Susan S. Bank lives in Philadelphia, PA and Portsmouth, NH. Largely a self-taught photographer, she studied through Maine Media Workshops with masters Mary Ellen Mark and Graciela Iturbide in Oaxaca, 1997-98, David Alan Harvey, Havana, 1999 and with Constantine Manos, Havana 2000.
Bank’s self-published first monograph Cuba: Campo Adentro, an intimate portrait of daily life of Cuban tobacco farmers and their families, was selected as “One of the Best Photography Books of the Year” 2009 PHotoEspaña and named “Best Books 2009”, photo-eye Books.
Her award winning documentary photography has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, including The Fototeca, Havana. Bank’s work is collected by museums in the United States, Cuba, Spain, and Mexico, most recently The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Piercing the Darkness, a personal reflection of that maddening mythical port city of Havana, is her second monograph, published by Brilliant Press. A selection from Piercing the Darkness was exhibited in “100 Years of The History of Photography of the City of Havana” at the 9th Habana Bienal 2006. Throckmorton Fine Art in NYC recently selected work from the Havana series in a group exhibition, “Under the Cuban Sun”. Piercing the Darkness was selected for the 2016 Lucie Awards as First Place, Non-Professional Monograph. Images from the series are included in a traveling exhibition, “Los Dios” as Latin Fotografia V winners in NYC, LA, Brazil, and Brooklyn Photoville 201
Bank continues to work with her Leica M6 on projects close to home, including the Salisbury Beach series. Website: susansbank.com
Fulvio Bugani is an Italian freelance photographer based in Bologna, with more than 20 years of experience. He actively collaborates with Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. His work has been published on international magazines and websites such as TIME LightBox, LFI–Leica Fotografie International, and Cubadebate.
Among other recognition, in 2015 he was awarded at the World Press Photo, and has received two honorable mentions at MIFA-Moscow International Foto Award, for his work about Indonesian Transgender. In 2016 his reportage about Cuba was selected as one of the 12 finalist at the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
He has several ongoing photographic projects in Cuba, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Georgia. He teaches photography in his private photographic school in Bologna, as well as in seminars an workshops around the world. More info at www.fulviobugani.com
Susi Eggenberger is a freelance documentary photographer based in Arundel, Maine.
She originally worked as an RN for twenty years before making a career change into photography. As in her nursing career, her focus in photography is with children and her emphasis is working with non-profit organizations who address children’s issues including Seeds of Peace, Ronald McDonald House, Map International, and Camp Sunshine. She has won numerous national and international awards for her imagery and her self-generated film project on a transsexual woman living in Southern Maine was nominated for “Best Documentary Film” in the Maine Short Film Festival.
For seven years she has been documenting the journey of a young Iraqi girl who she has been bringing to Maine for surgeries after she was shot in the head by a U.S. sniper.
Isadora Kosofsky is a Los Angeles-based documentary photographer and filmmaker. She received the 2012 Inge Morath Award from the Magnum Foundation for her multi-series documentary about the lives and relationships of the elderly. She was a participant in the 2014 Joop Swart Masterclass of World Press Photo. She is the recipient of a 2015 Flash Forward Magenta Foundation Award and a 2015 Commended Award from the Ian Parry Foundation. Her projects have received distinctions from Women in Photography International, Prix de la Photographie Paris and The New York Photo Festival. Isadora’s work has been featured in The London Sunday Times, Slate, The Washington Post, TIME, Le Monde, American Photo, VICE, NationSwell, Mashable, PDN, The British Journal of Photography, The Huffington Post and The New Yorker Photo Booth, among others. “Vinny and David: Life and Incarceration of a Family” is featured in the Thames and Hudsons’ anthology Family Photography Now and Public Private Portraiture by Mossless.
Margaret Quackenbush is a freelance reporter based in Boston. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in January 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Business Journal, The Dorchester Reporter, Eater Boston and other publications in the Boston area.
She was the 2016 coordinator for Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference, and was previously the managing editor of the Boston University News Service and a teaching assistant at BU. Margaret received a BA in English and history from St. Lawrence University in 2010 and previously worked at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station.
Anne Sahler is an internationally published writer, photographer and graphic designer who divides her time between Japan and her homeland of Germany. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies, History of Art and Religious Studies which fuels her interests in Japan, art and social activism. Her curious nature and never ending need for travel helps lend a clarity of prospective to an evermore complicated world.
David Verberckt, originally from Belgium, is an independent reportage photographer currently living in Budapest, Hungary. He has studied photography at “le 75” in Brussels, and afterwards pursued studies in International Development at Bioforce in France. After exhibiting his first documentary reportages in the early nineties, David has turned to aid agencies and has spent 20 years working worldwide in humanitarian emergency and development with Médecins Sans Frontières and later the EU.
David’s reportages portray peculiarities of an often deprived civil society affected by latent or bygone conflicts. David has been working on several projects. Frozen Conflicts in the Caucasus depicts ordinary people whose lives are in limbo following the conflicts of the nineties. Palestinian Chronicles is a continuation of a series started in the early nineties, focusing on the daily realities of the numerous refugee camps’ population.
Recently, he is working on subjects depicting hard labor and seasonal migration flows in the overpopulated Bengal Bay and documenting statelessness of Bihari and Rohingya. More information at www.davidverberckt.com