Darfur up Close: A view of Darfuris through a UN volunteer’s lens

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28 Jul 2011

Darfur up Close: A view of Darfuris through a UN volunteer’s lens

Open from 1 July and lasting until 30 July 2011 at United Nations headquarters in New York, Darfur up Close is the first UN sponsored photo exhibition that shows the humane side of the conflict that has displaced around 1.8 million civilians from their homes and has ignited one of Africa’s more challenging humanitarian crisis this far.

Albert Gonzalez Farran, UN volunteer and official photographer for UNAMID (African Union United Nations Mission in Darfur) is the mind behind this piece of art that aims to raise awareness on public opinion about reality in Darfur. The exhibition emphasizes the individuals, the details and all subtleties about being a Darfuri in this particular time of history.

A child displays bullets collected from the ground in Rounyn (North Darfur).

Along 20 stands, Albert tries to portray three different points of view of a particular story, using a specific technical approach: the wide angle, the medium and the close up. “That is why the exhibition is called Darfur up Close, because we tried to explain the conflict through individual stories. All 20 stands/stories explore different aspects, but we wanted to give the close up more space. We wanted to share the special details, the faces, the objects”, explains Albert during our interview in El Fasher, North Darfur, where he is based.

With at least 10 years of experience in press and photo journalism in Catalonia, Spain Albert arrived in Darfur on July 2009 having accepted the assignment as a UN volunteer photographer for UNAMID, working for the Communications and Public Information Division. Since then, he has seen places very few people have access to and seen things that normally the rest of the world would just ignore.

“Africa in general has always been interesting to me. Darfur specifically has a lot of challenges because of the conflict, which makes access to other photographers from around the world very difficult. Being part of an organization such as UNAMID, the largest peacekeeping mission in the world as of today, is a privilege because of all the resources available to perform my duties, to reach remote areas and have access to the heart of the conflict”.

Being a UN volunteer in Darfur has not only enabled Albert to give back to society in general but also to channel his knowledge and skills to Darfuri community in particular, placing him at an exciting multifaceted gate to new knowledge and professional experience.

When talking about ethics in the approach he takes to capture these images, Albert rests assure that showing the real side of Darfur is a display of respect on his and his team’s behalf; “showing the real situation to the public opinion conveys that we really care for people in Darfur. […] Also, I don’t work on my own. There is a big team always supporting me, guiding me and collaborating, and all together we find the right way to show this reality”.

A doctor examines a displaced family in Kalma camp (Nyala) before the departure to their original village in West Darfur.

And as for the volunteering aspect of his experience, Gonzalez Farran shows that in terms of reciprocating to the local community he might not have a direct impact, but his contribution is for sure tangible; meaning “I don’t know if I am helping them in a direct way to improve their lives or to build peace in Darfur, but my job is to inform the public regarding what the Mission is doing here, and not only this but also to communicate and raise awareness about what the main problems in Darfur are”; therefore, he believes that showing to the public opinion the real situation in Darfur is a key to not let the conflict go deeper.

Bringing international attention to what is happening in this part of the world to advocate for all resources available and building solidarity around this area is one of the foundations of peace building. And honest photography can for sure help on this behavior-changing process.

By Natalia Herrera Eslava