Art Seen

Think Refugees Are Bad For The U.S.? Take A Listen To Some Of Their Stories First.

"It’s so different than just reading about it or seeing stories on the news.”

Brandon Hill has been a commercial and editorial photographer for the last six years, but a recent experience a year ago inspired him to venture into a portrait series revolving around one subject: refugees and their life experiences.

Last year, Hill was assigned to photograph a woman who happened to be a refugee. The two had a lot in common. They were the same age and had children.

"But her life couldn't be more different than mine," he said in an email to A Plus. "She was thankful every day she could vacuum floors in an office building and not be fleeing harm in her home country. I had never been faced with even spending time with someone who had experienced it. It's so different than just reading about it or seeing stories on the news."

Before he photographed them, Hill did his research and spent time with the participants. He sat in on an English class at World Relief, an organization that aims to help people from other countries such as refugee and immigration services. Hill learned a lot about the visa process for those coming from Afghanistan and Iraq, including a full vetting process for immigration that takes place after some of them have helped assist U.S. troops.

"But after the initial Trump travel ban, those refugees were stuck and left vulnerable, even after being vetted," he said. "And these are people who have bled more than I have for America. That's unsettling, to say the least."


Safi, below, is from Afghanistan. In his portrait with Hill, he said, "The refugee problem is a human problem, I hope and dream for peace in the world.”

While pursuing the portrait series, Hill faced a few obstacles in getting people to sit down with him.

"Many of them were happy I was trying to share their story, but naturally many of them still didn't want to be photographed," he said. "In some cases, their anonymity is all they have left. They arrive not only homeless, but country-less. So I understood that, while being happy I could spend time with them."

For those that did participate, Hill had to hold his emotions together as he listened to some of them talk about not knowing when they'd see their estranged loved ones again.

"After hearing them just talk about this as their reality, it hit me pretty hard a few times," he said.

Hill hopes that the individual and deeply personal stories of each refugee impacts others who view the series in order to tear down common misconceptions that refugees and immigrants are bad people.

He's also learned a lot about himself, from being impressed with how the young refugees he met are fighting so hard to acclimate to life in America to using photography to educate himself about different communities. He recently photographed six immigrants from the six countries on America's travel ban list for Seattle Met magazine.

"I want my photography to make me a more empathetic person," he said. "If I spend my entire life photographing nice photos of privileged white males, I might feel like [I've] been photographing myself for decades."

Below are some of the other refugees Hill photographed:

1. “I was injured by an explosive device while serving the U.S. Army Special Forces. I will always fight for peace,” said Fazal, who is originally from Afghanistan.

2. “After civil war in my country and six years of being apart, I have reunited with my family in the United States," Kamala from Nepal said.

3. Azeb is from Eritrea and said, "I miss my family very much. But I love being in a country that has freedom and is full of equal opportunities."

4. “Knowing that I’m helping to make a difference in other people’s lives is something that makes me very delighted," said Joseph from Liberia.

5. Sami, originally from Afghanistan, said, "“I am grateful I’m in a country of people who have already ‘made it.’ I promise I will pay it back.”

To view more of Hill's work, visit his website here.

(H/T: Feature Shoot)


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