Each year millions of children flee their homes to escape armed conflict. Growing up in exile, sometimes orphaned or separated from loved ones, they are haunted by violence and loss – but also resilient enough to envision better days ahead.
In The Most Important Picture: Syria, young refugees shine a light on their world so that others may see it more clearly. In 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – the UN Refugee Agency charged with protecting and assisting refugees around the world, put out a call for a participatory photo project. Photographer Brendan Bannon answered the call and since then, has worked with youth in the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as many others around the world.
The Most Important Picture project provides children with, "an incredible two week experience that provides fun, exploration learning, team building and new friendships and strategies for problem solving all in a safe environment." The photographs come from a series of workshops that Bannon led with children in refugee camps and tented settlements in Lebanon and Jordan in 2014-2015.
The goal of the collaboration is to "amplify the children’s voices so that the world can hear what they think and see what they see." Over the course of the workshops, children are given a series of projects that teach them problem solving skills as well as photography. Through brainstorming, writing, and open-ended photo assignments that encourage creativity, the children learn to think in new ways about what a picture is and can do. They make art not simple selfies or ID photos.
The students choose their most meaningful images and write explanations. Through the combination of image and words they magnify, intensify and compound meaning.
Photography and creative writing allow children a safe place to explore the complexity of their lives. These youth have endured, often silently, the most dehumanizing of circumstances. With these pictures they speak to the world and see that people are paying attention.
The photos in this exhibit were presented by Bannon to represent the humanity of his students. A team of Packer student curators chose a set of images that explore themes such as boundaries, intimacy, and rituals. They are but a small portion of the wealth of images created by the participants in the program.
For kids who need it, art and self expression are a matter of survival. Through art-making, you have the opportunity to regenerate a sense of belonging while making sense of the world around you. For these youth, forced to flee home, photography provides the means to create a survivor’s culture while building relationships with other refugees. Through art we share our common humanity and can begin healing by connecting to others.
“Communication, building bridges, challenging perceptions, problem solving and connecting with others are all a part of being a photographer and a human being” said Bannon.
This exhibit invites you to witness the humanity of these young artists and to reflect on their experience.
These refugee photographers continue to explore their circumstances and create meaning from chaos. Brendan Bannon is currently planning follow up workshops in the camps. This exhibition is being shared around the world. More info at http://www.mostimportantpicture.org.
Student Curators: Destini Armstrong '17, Delilah Draper '18, Lucy Friedberg '18, Paul McLaren '17, and Katie Panczner '18.
Faculty Curators: Tené Howard and Liz Titone.
On view in the Shen Gallery: Spring 2017