Magazine article Nieman Reports

Photographing Massacre Survivors as Individuals, Not Statistics: Anastasia Taylor-Lind, NF '16, Creates a Makeshift Studio in a Rohingya Refugee Camp

Magazine article Nieman Reports

Photographing Massacre Survivors as Individuals, Not Statistics: Anastasia Taylor-Lind, NF '16, Creates a Makeshift Studio in a Rohingya Refugee Camp

Article excerpt

How do you photograph something you can't see? This was the question I asked myself last September when Human Rights Watch (HRW) assigned me to cover the Rohingya crisis for them. My brief was to travel to the Bangladesh-Burma border with a team of investigators who were collecting evidence of crimes against humanity being committed by Burmese security forces against the ethnic Rohingya, a largely Muslim minority, in Northern Rakhine State in Burma. My job was to find a way to visually represent the brutal and systematic violence being waged against the Rohingya without witnessing any of it myself.

No photojournalist has photographed the violence inside Burma--not the massacres, the deportations, the rapes, or the burning villages. There is no legal way into the region other than on occasional highly orchestrated propagandistic state tours.

The team of investigators, led by Peter Bouckaert, HRW's director of emergencies, collected eyewitness testimonies from massacre survivors. They recorded fastidious interviews describing events that had taken place days or weeks before. As a photographer, I couldn't show anything they talked about because I wasn't there when it happened. But Bouckaert believed that powerful portraits of the survivors could add weight and emotional impact to HRW reports and might impact an audience more than words alone.

Creative freedom like this is rare in editorial photography and the freedom to work for 28 days in the field even rarer--most of my editorial assignments are around a week long. Given creative freedom to develop the story as I saw fit, enough time to do it in, and a budget that backed this up--hiring translators and drivers and staying in a hotel for a month isn't cheap--I knew this was a rare and precious opportunity as a freelance photojournalist. …

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