The heart of photography is storytelling, but all too often we see only the viewpoints of outside observers. This situation was the motivation for a Canon collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Unfiltered, a project which gives people in conflict-affected areas the tools and training to tell their own stories through the medium of photography.
"Our corporate philosophy guides our effort to support the society in which we live and work, and to use our tools, equipment and knowledge to develop the skills and the passion of the younger generations," said Yuichi Ishizuka, President and CEO of Canon Europe, Middle East and Africa, as he introduced a panel discussing the project at the Visa pour l'Image 2019 festival of photojournalism.
The panel, chaired by Head of Photography at the ICRC Kathryn Cook-Pellegrin, explored the importance and challenges of the outreach project Unfiltered, which sent professional photographers to mentor vulnerable young people living in places including the Ein El-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon and the Al-Rajaa school for girls in Ramadi, Iraq.
Patrick Baz, a photographer and founder of the Beirut Center of Photography, mentored the young people in Lebanon, and described the challenges of photographing in the refugee camp – one of the most densely populated in the world and rife with crime. He told the audience at Visa that most subjects were uncomfortable having their photos taken, and some were suspicious of the photographers and even aggressive towards them. Despite these challenges, the young photographers persevered in order to tell the story of daily lives there.
Daniel Obeid, a participant in the programme who lives in Ein El-Helweh refugee camp, Lebanon, said: "It was very important for me and the group to take photos of Ein El-Helweh because we wanted to show the real life of the people there. It's difficult for other people to show how we really live, because if a photographer comes from outside Ein El-Helweh they will look at things differently. We wanted to show Ein El-Helweh from our own perspective."
The participants also left Ein El-Helweh to take some of their photographs – the first time that some of them had ever been outside of the camp, providing confidence and new skills, as well as producing authentic insights.
"It was really important to show people affected by this instability as actors," said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC Regional Director for Near and Middle East, reflecting on the humanitarian side of the project. "Very often pictures are taken, reports are made by people from the outside and sometimes we project a passive image of people living in situations of conflict and violence – but they have a life. They have happy moments and sad moments, and it's not just about wounded, dead, destruction."
For Daniel and the other photographers living in Ein El-Helweh, the next step is to get their images out to a wider audience. To do this, he and his group want to start an Instagram account.
"Of course the process is really important, giving access to equipment and good quality training and trainers," said Emma Hope, EMEA Sustainability Manager at Canon Europe, "but when the output is what is being talked about, when it's the young person's story that's getting the attention, that is success. Canon is just the enabler in all of that."
Find all the Canon-related stories on our Visa pour l'Image event page.