Eye On The Invisible: The photographer’s quest has no boundaries.
Where did you call home?
This seems like a simple question. But for millions of people around the world, there is no simple answer: they are stateless. They lack basic documents such as passports or national identity CARDS. So they may not be able to go to school, get jobs, have land, get health care.
Photographer Greg Constantine called them “nowhere” – the title of his new book, which Chronicles the lives of these people.
Constantine’s first contact with the stateless was in 2002, when he moved to Japan to teach English and began a career in photography.
His first freelance story was about north Korean refugees hiding in Chinese authorities. Many women have children while living illegally in China. So neither women nor their children have any legal documents. Their uncertain future sparked a decade of work on the life of stateless people.
Since then, he has traveled from southeast Asia and the Middle East to Africa and Europe, capturing the experiences of some of the world’s largest stateless people with photographs and words.
I talked to Constantine about the work. The length and clarity of the interview.
Is there a photo that shows how it feels to live in a stateless person?
The picture on the cover of the book says a lot, though it doesn’t say anything. This photo was taken in southeast Kenya in 2008. This handprint shows a group of stateless children on the wall of an abandoned school. A few years ago, I Shared this picture with a group of fifth-grade students on a school trip with the Pulitzer center for crisis reporting. One student said: “it’s like those children trapped behind the invisible things, you know where they are because their fingerprints, but you can’t see their faces, just like they are trying to tell the world… “Here we are!
At least according to my experience, the rohingya story is indeed the most pitiless state in the world today. The 140,000 rohingya, who live in camps in myanmar, are largely segregated from the buddhist world. They couldn’t leave the camp. They can’t work. They receive meagre humanitarian aid, little or no health care at all. While many people celebrate the success of recent elections in myanmar, there are good reasons for it, but ethnic cleansing is also under way.
Since the middle of 2012, rohingya children living in refugee camps have yet to accept any form of education. So you have young rohingya trying to help their families survive.
You’ve included some more relaxed moments – like this picture of a boy, chest bulging and arms bent.
I met this 11-year-old boy when I was writing a photo essay about stateless people living in a roma community in Serbia. Most of the roma, who have difficulty obtaining citizenship in Serbia, are from kosovo. Many children were born in Serbia, but for many reasons, most of them are discrimination and lack of birth registration, and are stateless.
[the boy] and his siblings had no documents, but he had this incredible confidence. He was fully conscious of his condition. He can’t go to school every day and often travels in the city because he is afraid of being questioned by some authorities about his identity documents or documents. But he still believes his situation will change. I asked for his last portraits, when he stretched his chest and bent his arms. His resolution was crystallized at that moment.
What do you want people to take away from your photos?
I want people to see these pictures, and then to have a deeper understanding of the scope of the problem and the situation of the stateless person. Although stateless people are among the most marginalized in the world, I hope these photos will help people to see very determined, resourceful and talented stateless people. They have great contributions to the larger society and have great potential, but they are not allowed to make such contributions.
What can be done to help stateless people?
The solution to the problem of statelessness is to have the political will to change the law and recognize the community, and to open the way for people to become citizens and to be recognized in the countries where they were born.
Unfortunately, these changes have no political will.