As a documentary photographer working at times in the most obscure parts of the world, I observe the different ways we go about meeting two of the basic needs in life: shelter and food. My job is to tell the stories through visuals that speak to the outside world. Much as an architect might, I lean on aesthetics and geometry to convey the message.

In the Gambella region of Ethiopia, refugees who escaped the war of South Sudan arrived in camps most with only their shirts on their backs, others carrying small suitcases of memorabilia that may serve to sell or exchange for goods. After some time living in makeshift houses made of tarp, the refugees are given a small piece of land along with logs of wood placed for the framing of the hut. Mixing dirt, water, and straws from the fields, they will then build a round hut in two days that will shelter their family and relatives. The small hut will have a door and one, or two smaller openings that serve windows. Some have lived there for nearly 30 years.  

In the Central African Republic, according to UNHCR over 500,000 were forced to flee their homes as violence spread with armed groups controlling part of the country. Thousands escaped the capital Bangui to the border of Cameroon on one of the weekly convoys organized with minimal security and notoriously attacked. It would be a week journey without food to buy. Others fled on foot and walked weeks to reach the border for safety. They ate what they could find along the way. Those who made it to safety were guided to refugee camps.

Food distribution at the Timangolo site was distributed once a week. However, rations were calculated and in spite of waiting in queue since 4AM, not everyone met the proper identification required to receive the donation. Returning to their tents on empty stomachs, it was not uncommon for desperate families to cook grass in the wait to qualify for the next distribution.

Shelter and food are two of the basic necessities to survive. Knowing that we share this in common with everyone around the world means that no one I meet, or photograph, is a stranger to me. This connection is incredibly valuable in visually representing people’s lives. To it, I add an esthetic eye and alertness for patterns that will help frame moments that honor those I photograph.

Guest Blogger: Catianne Tijerina

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