This morning, I was having a browse through the World Press Photo winners from yesteryear and was impressed with the vast array of work from photographers around the world. Some amazing images taken in all kinds of situations all over the world. But, it wasn’t exactly inspiring stuff on a human-level. As in, not happy-clappy. Despite the beauty of the photojournalism, one thing struck me. Our pretty blue planet has a multitude of ugly things that happen every year – greed, dictators, hatred, war etc etc. Will it ever I change? I guess not. But, it’s been like that since day one I suppose. Anyway…
After going through all the winners, in all the categories I was in awe at the quality of images on show – staggering stuff. However, there was one particular set of images that garnered my attention.
It’s the work of Irish Photographer Andrew McConnell, who won the 1st Prize in the portrait category for his 2012 project ‘The Last Colony’. His work regularly documents people and places that remain ‘under-reported’ in the international media and his images have appeared internationally in publications such as National Geographic, Newsweek, Time and The Sunday Times Magazine, to name a few.
McConnell has lived and worked in Africa for a number of years and was intrigued by the Western Sahara as it was always the country on that continent that he had heard the least about. After reading up on the history of the area he was shocked at the conflict that has been on-going for decades – and to this day is still unresolved. The people most affected are the indigenous Saharawi, tens of thousands of them are languishing in Algerian refugee camps after being involved in a decades-long dispute for independence.
Here’s the history of the conflict (taken from the World Press Photo website) –
The Saharawi people of Western Sahara have been involved in a decades-long dispute for independence, in land controlled by Morocco along the border with Algeria. A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara is Africa’s last open file at the United Nations Decolonization Committee. Morocco invaded the territory in 1975, forcing the Spanish to withdraw. Spain divided the land between Morocco and Mauritania. A Saharawi rebel group, the Polisario Front, which had formed earlier to fight the Spanish, began a guerilla war against the new occupiers, with the backing of Algeria, and forced the withdrawal of Mauritania in 1979. In the 1980s, Morocco built a 2,700-kilometer-long sand barrier and planted it with mines, dividing Western Sahara in two. Most Saharawi live in the inland desert behind this barrier, or in refugee camps in Algeria.
As far as McConnell was concerned it was a story that simply had to be told.
His concept for the project came about because he wanted the images to have a strong message that highlighted the plight of the Saharawi people. McConnell said “I wanted to give a sense that this is one long night for the Saharawis, one lasting 35 years. To show very little of the land emphasizes that they are landless, and very simply by lighting them in the darkness I was saying, “Look! These people are here!” Finally I wanted the viewer to see what I had seen; a people utterly forgotten, abandoned, out of the world’s consciousness: a people as ghosts.”
It’s strong stuff, I was absorbed by each image and the story behind them. In my opinion the images are beautiful, but it’s the underlying ‘ghost’ concept and subject matter that I found fascinating.
Not sure what I, you or we can do to help these people, but at least now, I know of their plight – which is a start. So feel free to tell your colleagues, friends and family to not only showcase the talents of the amazing Mr McConnell but also to raise awareness of the Saharawi ‘ghost people’.