I love Hoda Afshar's portraits and videos from Manus Island (it's Australia's Refugee Devil's Island - you go in but you never leave). They're not about honour or dignity or posing people as heroes when they are not.
These pictures open the world up, though not in an easy way. They expose grief, pain, frustration, they present a view that doesn't romanticise or deny what people have been through. I write about them, and many other things, in my latest piece on World Press Photo Witness. Here's a snippet of her views of her portrait of author, Behrouz Boochani.
picture by Hoda Afshar
'It’s not a dignified or happy image. Instead, it’s a troubling image of a troubled man. And when you see it, you wonder if the dignified Native Americans of Edward Curtis might not have been better portrayed in this way.
“I sent this portrait to Behrouz after I returned from Manus in April 2018, and called him,” says Afshar in the image caption.
“I said, ‘This is you, Behrouz, with your passion, your fire, and your writer’s hands. It symbolises your resistance.’ He heard this, and paused. ‘You are right,’ he said. ‘But I do not see myself in this picture. I only see a refugee. Someone whose identity has been taken from him. A bare life, standing there beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring.’ He fell silent, then said, ‘This image scares me.’”
It is right that the image should scare him, because it shows who he has become (but not, one hopes, who he will be forever). There is nothing benign about being forced to flee your homeland to expose yourself to the physical and psychological hardships of travelling over land and by sea to Australia, and ending up imprisoned under a hostile regime with no end of your torment in sight. There is no dignity in that.'