We took portable photo printers to Greek refugee camps to give portraits to the residents, here’s what we found.
The United Nations has called the global refugee crisis the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. According to the UN, 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution. Sixty. Five. Million. People.
Numbers that gigantic can be very hard for us to visualize or understand. We have been working to remind us those numbers are human lives – men, women, children – and not just statistics.
We have a very hard time comprehending what a massive scale of humanity 65 million people even means. And if we can’t comprehend it, how can we work to help solve it?
We start one face at a time.
We recently returned to Chios Island in Greece to continue documenting the struggle of refugees. Chios is one of the closest Greek islands to the Turkish coast and has been one of the hotspots for refugee boat landings from Turkey. We documented conditions during the bitter winter earlier this year. Now the refugees are living in the blistering heat of summer in the Souda and Vial refugee camps on the island.
We realized that most everyone had lost their treasured family photos when they fled their homelands, and we wanted to give something back this trip.
Having a printed photo of family or friends is a special thing to hold in your hands and can be a great comfort in times of need. We gave people framed portraits for them to keep. We intentionally cropped out the context of the refugee camp to focus on the individuals, not their label as merely ‘refugee’.
Heading to the camps, we brought several portable photo printers, our favorite orange backdrop and a couple hundred pounds of gear, printer paper, ink and folio frames.
Many people asked to take their portraits against the backdrop of the Aegean Sea, the very body of water they risked their lives crossing to reach Greece.
Our goal is simple. We show people with courage, beauty, dignity and grace. The enthusiasm to this portrait project was incredible. So many people were genuinely appreciative to receive proper pictures of their loved ones and friends.
After several days taking photos in our makeshift outdoor studios, we provided a total of 1,500 printed portraits to the residents.
Even though we have extensive experience doing remote fieldwork on projects around the world, having to print hundreds of portraits at the refugee camps presented new technical challenges to us.
We and our team of volunteers worked for days outside with temperatures up to 100 degrees, baking our printers and gear. Constant winds deposited layers of dust deep into cameras, printers, and eyes, all the while trying to take proper portraits worth keeping.
Beyond the technical issues, it turns out the most challenging aspect was maintaining an orderly and enjoyable process for the many people who wanted to have their portraits taken. This was accomplished with extensive advance planning, instructions and ample signage printed in English, Arabic and Farsi explaining the purpose of the portrait project, and a simple “take a number” system to manage the heavy and excited flow of crowds.
We plan to continue this portrait project by going to other refugee camps around the world and giving portraits to more people.
TAP Packaging Solutions supported the portrait project by donating photo folios to display and protect the prints, and Op/Tech USA provided the team support with travel equipment and gear. We relied on Canon SELPHY portable printers to create the full-color 4x6 prints.
Check out more on Instagram at @huangmendersphoto
Photographers: Daniel Farber Huang + Theresa Menders
Production Coordinator: Ratha Lahall
Chios Volunteer Staff provided by: Chios Eastern Shore Response Team
Locations: Souda refugee camp and Vial refugee camp Chios, Greece
Production Assistant: Celeste Huang