Noor himself is an amazingly hard-working and humble human being who has made a huge difference to the way the centre is run. His efforts have been recognised by the UN, and he will be departing soon for training in Switzerland to prepare for a 6 month placement at a refugee facility in Africa or Asia sometime next year.
I was intrigued by the work he does – prior to this I had no idea of the extent of New Zealand’s contribution to refugee resettlement. This meeting planted the seed for a photojournalistic project I hope to bring to life in the coming year.
It was with this idea in mind that I recently contacted Noor to arrange a meeting at the Refugee Centre to get a better understanding of the valuable work that the centre does.
New Zealand accepts up to 750 refugees each year. All of these refugees pass through the centre before being resettled elsewhere in New Zealand. From the moment they arrive in New Zealand they have NZ resident status, and it is at the Mangere Centre where they undergo a 6 week orientation program to prepare them for life in New Zealand.
It was during this meeting with Noor that he made the request for help photographing the refugee families during the next 6 week program. Noor is the unofficial photographer at the centre, and attended my workshop to improve his skill set. He has a great love and respect for the refugees who pass through the centre, and the images he takes of them during the course of their stay are gifted to those who wish to have them. Noor shares my belief in the value of an image as a physical memento, which in the case of the images he takes of the refugee families is of particular importance given the significance of the move they have made.
So of course I was more than happy to come on board and offer my skills.
I am a firm believer in giving back, and an even firmer believer that payment is not always a monetary concept. This job was incredibly enriching, and the start of a partnership I intend to maintain.
From a photographic point of view, the brief was absolutely daunting – fraught with obstacles and adverse factors that ordinarily would never come together on one shoot.
- Setup a black background and lighting in a limited space.
- Photograph up to 139 people in 45 minutes.
- Most of your subjects will have no or very limited English. (Which makes posing rather tricky.)
- Use a lighting setup that will work well for individual portraits and groups of up to 10, as well as lighting adults and children of different height effectively without requiring adjustment between shots.
Surprisingly, everything went very well, and I’m happy with what I managed to achieve, though the perfectionist in me wishes I had more time.
Ironically, my desire for more time is not to ensure that the technical aspects of the shoot could be improved, but because I regret not having time to talk to my subjects.
I have a fixed rule for every one of my studio portraits – I will not shoot anyone without a consultation prior to the shoot. Capturing the essence of a person’s character is the bedrock of a good portrait. You cannot do this, or even begin to understand a person unless you have spent a little time getting to know them first.
Obviously this was an impossible thing to do for this shoot. Despite the fact that things turned out just fine, I am saddened by the fact that the room was so full of stories that I would not get a chance to hear due to time restraints, language barriers and the nature of the work I had to do.
All these images were achieved using 3 speedlights. (2 Shoot-through umbrellas and a bare flash as separation)